Return of resource officer a good start to new school year

At Holley School’s pancake breakfast Monday morning, Aug. 31, celebrating the first day of school, a cop showed up – and we were really happy to see him.

No, there wasn’t a food fight. Nobody was stealing flapjacks.

Geoff Hamlin, Sweet Home’s new school resource officer, was just there, hanging out, conversing with kids.

As we reported in last week’s edition, Hamlin’s presence in schools ends a 3½-year hiatus, during which the program has been in mothballs.

When budget shortfalls forced the end of Chris Wingo’s tenure as SRO at the end of 2011, we noted that there was almost universal agreement that having a resource officer on campuses made a difference.

It’s not like vagrant teens started popping up everywhere after Wingo’s departure, although there have been problems in certain spots with young people loitering when and where they shouldn’t be. We really didn’t experience a sudden wave of severe juvenile crime.

But the SRO’s position is about a lot more than just putting the clamps on criminal activity and juvenile mischief.

Having a uniformed police officer walking our school hallways helps youngsters get a chance to know a cop up close, and hopefully buy into the reality that a police officer can be a trusted friend, not a foe. We hope it also helps them remember to be responsible and to respect legitimate authority.

The official description of the SRO’s responsibilities is “advocacy for students, families and staff” and to “help anticipate and solve problems before they become legal issues.”

Yes, the SRO’s uniformed presence on campuses may make it a little less convenient to be bad. But the daily interaction with an officer is important for many of our students, who come to school from fractured, sometimes extremely unstable domestic situations – ones in which law enforcement may not be appreciated.

The regular presence of a police officer who isn’t driving in with his lights on and siren screaming, who cares about the welfare of individual students and is willing to make efforts to help them, who can give them counsel and direction that they may not have too much of otherwise, can only be an asset.

It’s been in the past and we’re delighted to see Hamlin back in the SRO’s office at the high school.

We’ve all seen how students seemingly on the right track in the structured, safe confines of local schools can go wrong when they no longer have that daily support system.

Having a relationship with a guy like Hamlin could be a good way to head off those slides, if this program works the way its’ supposed to.

It could be one of the most critical parts of their education.

* * * * *

On a mostly unrelated note: observant readers have, no doubt, noticed an uncommon surge in the number of local structure fires over the last month or so.

Obviously, there are many different reasons why fires occur and we are certainly anything but experts in this area. But common sense dictates that, even with the sprinkles of rain we’ve had, in these dry times we are well served to follow up on that little crackling sound when we flip on a switch, and take care where we dispose of that cigarette butt or leave a candle burning.