Based off an inquiry from some Newton Board of Education members, the school resource officers in USD 373 came before the board last week to report on their daily functions and how they operate within the district.
Officers Jon Adkins (elementary), Gary Littlejohn (middle school) and Brian Salmans (high school) are the current SROs for Newton schools and each have been serving in those roles for at least a few years. By now, all three have their daily routines — with some similarities and some differences between them.
All three try to check in on their schools regularly — a more intense task for some, like Adkins, who has six buildings to keep tabs on as the only elementary school SRO in the Newton district.
On top of providing safety and security for Newton students in school, the trio of SROs also provide similar support at numerous USD 373 activities like sporting events, tournaments, dances etc.
No matter the situation, the SROs noted building positive relationships with students is a big part of what they try to do — whether talking with them one-on-one in the hallway and/or classroom or starting the day with a positive interaction (like the high-fives Adkins has become known for).
"My goal is for children to see me in this uniform every day, that we're normal human beings," Adkins said. "We wear lots of hats. We do respond to lots of crimes, but we're also counselors."
"I feel honored because there's a lot of kiddos I never thought would come talk to me who come talk to me about random stuff," Salmans said.
Part of the SROs' responsibilities also include touching base with staff to create a safe and secure atmosphere, one where communication is encouraged.
Adkins tries to get in the classroom for a number of presentations throughout the year with a similar intent as teachers. No matter if in class or responding to an incident, he said he aims to try and always make his interactions with students a positive or learning experience.
Of course, as officers of the law, part of the their duty is also responding to criminal reports at the district schools — with all three presenting statistics for 2018-2019 to the board last week.
Numbers were understandably lower at the elementary level for Adkins, who noted he had 11 criminal investigations last school year. Those numbers start to climb with the older students, though, as Littlejohn had four times as many investigations in 2018-2019 and Salmans dealing with numbers seven times greater than at the elementary level.
Having those goals of positive interactions with students is something Salmans also noted can help in the safety/security aspect, fostering a sense of duty among students to look out for their school when unsavory activities are happening.
"We want to give these students a sense of comfort," Salmans said. "We want them to be comfortable coming to us; when they see something wrong, say something. Whether that's some sort of criminal activity or just something strange, we want to know. We want our students to feel comfortable doing it and we want our staff to feel comfortable doing it, too."
Given the T21 ordinance recently brought before the city, board members like Angela Becker raised questions about how much tobacco usage the SROs are seeing in schools (namely at the middle and high school levels).
Salmans pointed to e-cigarettes as a particularly tricky problem because they are so easy to hide. While he said he was proud of the NHS students in STAND trying to take action on the issue, it is one he doesn't see going away — especially as easy as Juul pods are to refill or redistribute with a number of other products (like THC).
"We're seeing a huge influx of that. It's hard to combat ... short of wanding people coming through the door or searching everybody as they come through," Salmans said. "We've got to find a way to combat it. We're not going to get rid of it, but we have to find some way to kind of get some teeth when it comes to this in school."
Littlejohn noted that three Chisholm Middle School students were caught with vape pens during the 2018-2019 school year.
Tough as the job can be, board members and administration gave credit to the SROs for continuing to try and foster those positive relationships among the student body and full school population.
"My children have always had nothing but positive things to say about their interactions with SROs at school and I'm just so thankful for that," said board member Toby Tyner.
"They are to be commended for the work they do," said Newton superintendent Deb Hamm.