Editorial, Local, Mauldin

Keeping Our Kids Safe: A Reminder

Taft Matney

Since last month’s senseless killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from a lot of parents, and understandably so.
Although I can’t talk about specific security protocols, I can say that we have well-trained police officers vigilantly watching our kids and their schools.
It not a cushy job for them. It’s serious business, and these special officers treat it that way.

I introduced them here in a November 2016 op-ed titled “A Different Kind of Police Officer,” and with the tragic events in Florida and the concern that’s arisen nationwide as a result, I thought it would be a good idea to offer this reminder of the men and women in uniform keeping our schools and our kids safe.
I hope we never need to publish this reminder again.

A Different Kind of Police Officer

A friend of mine recently posted a photo to Facebook and captioned it “Whatever is happening at #mauldinhighschool doesn’t look good!” She added, “An armored vehicle, bullet proof vest and 5 Mauldin cop cars.”
I looked at the photo and knew exactly what was happening, so I wrote her to clear up any misunderstanding. “There was nothing to worry about. This is ‘Red Ribbon Week,’ and Mauldin High School, in conjunction with the Mauldin Police Department, was conducting demonstrations with students on the dangers of impaired driving. Don’t be worried about the Humvee, either. It’s not a tactical vehicle. The city got it in 2013 at no cost from the federal government to use as a community relations tool.”

Mauldin has School Resource Officers (SROs) directly assigned to our elementary schools (Bethel and Mauldin), Mauldin Middle, Mauldin High, and the Golden Strip Career Center. SROs are a different kind of officer focused on a different kind of policing. They have a different mindset and temperament. They have to because they work in a different kind of environment. Depending on the officer, he or she may be dealing with kindergarteners through 5th graders, 6th graders through 8th graders, or 9th through 12th graders. Each age group is inherently different because of varying maturity levels, but officers are trained to deal with these age groups.

These officers are trained to respond more like community patrol officers for their respective schools. They build relationships with students, they’re supportive voices or sounding boards, and yes. They also investigate crimes and make arrests when needed. I really didn’t know anything about SROs before I began serving on Mauldin High School’s School Improvement Council (SIC) in 2013. Like most people reading this, when I was in school, we didn’t have a daily police presence, but times have changed.

These officers are constantly scanning the crowds to make sure there aren’t any disturbances, and they have to be able to make snap judgements that differentiate when kids are just being kids or if there’s something more substantial about to happen. Their jobs don’t always involve that “keeping the peace” aspect of law enforcement, though. They’re trusted confidants to a lot of these students.

Students may be having a tough time with parents going through a divorce. They may be having relationship problems of their own. If you remember back to your own time growing up, you will have a lot of good memories, but you’ll also remember that there was no shortage of drama in your own life or in the lives of your friends. Students look up to and trust our officers. They see them as safe havens to get problems off their chests. How many of us could have benefitted from that kind of outlet when we were kids?

What happens when school is over for the day…or the week…or the year? Well, their jobs don’t end. Our SROs remain engaged even when school’s out. They know that the relationships they build don’t stop just because school did. They keep fostering those bonds. They attend student plays or concerts. They cheer on kids at athletic competitions. They coach sports themselves. They organize and conduct the city’s Police Youth Academy. They don’t stop. Our SROs know that the students in Mauldin’s schools are the future of our city, state, and nation, and they want to be as actively involved as possible to make sure our kids stay safe and on the right path.

The kids who keep in touch with our officers even after they graduate are living testaments to the life-changing work our SROs do and the differences they make in our youth. Over my past four years on Mauldin High’s SIC, not only do I feel fortunate to have learned more about them and what they do, I’m in awe of the way they do their jobs and what they do above and beyond when the school bell rings.

You may not see these officers, you may not have any interaction with them, and you may not know their names, but your children or grandchildren do and are grateful to have them keeping our schools safe.

— Taft Matney serves in Seat 1 on Mauldin city Council. He can be reached at tmatney@mauldincitysc.com.♦

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