Summer vacation for our children has ended and Pasco County’s children are now back in school. That means it is time for citizens who drive to be careful in school zones and to also be aware of school buses traveling on our roads.
Every school day as you drive to work, it’s important to remember that there are more than 8,000 school bus stops in the county, where children are picked up and dropped off both in the morning and in the afternoon. The Pasco school system transports more than 36,000 children each school day.
Once in school, students can interact with deputies in our School Resource Officer Unit. The dedicated men and women of that unit are not only tasked with providing guidance and prevention programs for students, but also with the safety of our students, school staff and parents. That is their number one priority. The SRO mission is: “Empowering students to experience lives uninterrupted by violence, substance abuse or destructive decisions!”
That begins with keeping destructive elements, such as drugs, off of school campuses. A Pasco Sheriff’s Office SRO/K-9 team is tasked with sniffing out illegal drugs on every high school and middle school campus. K-9 demonstrations are also presented at the elementary schools when staffing allows.
School Resource Officers, or SROs, also coordinate their school crisis plan, preparing drills so that both teachers and students know the proper actions and procedures during an emergency. All of our SROs undergo yearly training on the scenario of an active shooter on campus as well as performing school crisis management. We also train with school personnel on these protocols for our combined response to incidents of missing and endangered children.
During the middle school years, SROs provide classroom-based instruction and special programs to students about how peer pressure can be detrimental if it leads them to engage in inappropriate or illegal activities. Smoking cigarettes, joining a gang, or experimenting with drugs are examples of what students are faced with at this age. SROs also begin to explain the law about certain issues students may encounter, such as trespassing, curfew violations, battery, disorderly conduct, and bringing weapons to school. Students are also taught decision making models and refusal skills as part of the G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education and Training) Program.
SROs actively patrol school grounds, keeping an eye out for illegal activity. They are instrumental in putting first-time offenders into the Pasco Sheriff’s Office Juvenile Diversion Program, instead of filing charges or arresting them. SROs also spend time in the classroom teaching law-related topics such as consequences of crime, forensics, search and seizure, investigative procedures, courtroom process and many more. School Resource Officers also work to promote positive youth programs within the schools such as the SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) club and attempt to cultivate an atmosphere of positive peer pressure.
We use the Crime Stoppers Hotline, text and email tips as a source of information on everything from bullying to threats of violence. We are also promoting this as an anonymous means to report any students who may be posting on social media or talking about suicide.
Another critical issue for parents to understand is how to respond in a crisis. If there is a crisis at your child’s school, make sure the school already has a current number to reach you, and wait to be contacted with instructions. Racing to the school only prevents first responders from getting to the school as quickly as possible and creates confusion. Once a crisis is resolved, the school will put out information over the phone or through the media on how and where to respond to be reunited with your child (in the event of real crisis, student reunification will generally occur at another prearranged location).
School should be a safe environment where children learn about our world and how to become productive citizens. Encourage your children to get to know their School Resource Officer and talk to them about any topic, not just law enforcement issues. Our deputies are there to assist you and your students in any way they can.