Stark County Sheriff's Office Sergeant Ron VanDoorne currently serves at Richardton-Taylor High School as the school resource officer for Stark County, continuing work he started with the Dickinson Police Department as their first full-time SRO back in 2007.
It's been over ten years since the program went full time, and in that time VanDoorne left DPD and continued doing SRO work for the sheriff's office.
"I spoke with our chief (then) and thought we had a need for it," VanDoorne said. "It took quite a while. From there, we went to the school board and saw what they thought."
In 2007, a big question was how to pay for the inclusion of an SRO. An agreement was reached to see the school district pay half the expenses, including vehicle, uniform and training costs. Another question was the impact police presence in school would have.
"At first there was, I don't want to say concern, but curiosity," VanDoorne said of the community's reaction to the decision to place an armed officer in the school. "'Why do we need 'em? Do we need them? Why do we have to have police officers in the schools?'"
That initial wariness didn't last long-VanDoorne said he hasn't heard any criticism about the presence of SROs. In fact, Stark County Sheriff Terry Oestreich said that the having police presence in school is an asset to the whole department.
"Especially in our small towns, they have a pulse on the community. So many things in our small towns evolve around the schools and to have the SRO there is just invaluable for our department," Oestreich said. "I saw what it was doing in Dickinson and it helps our investigative division immensely. They know what's going on. Kids come to them. Working investigations, if we had a crime where it looked like juveniles were involved, the first person you talk to is our school resource officer."
VanDoorne looks over the hallways of Richardton-Taylor High School, standing in plain view at a T-shaped intersection as students mill about, going to and fro. He can greet them by name-one even approaches, and they speak freely on a serious matter.
VanDoorne said it's hard to measure the impact of an SRO-it's not knowable how much is prevented by his mere presence, but that presence is valuable unto itself.
"It can be hard to measure that, because you don't know how much you stopped just by being here," VanDoorne said. "We know for sure that our presence being here, nationwide ... shows that we're there that we care and maybe we don't have to worry so much-the bad guy who comes by with bad thoughts might say 'I don't want to stop there today because I see a squad car parked there.'"
Dickinson School District Superintendent Doug Sullivan said that SROs are an asset to the district. Reflecting his sentiment, this year the board approved expanding the program.
"Over time the school resource officers have been able to ... increase their presence in the school district, so they aren't just localized to one school," Sullivan said. "That's twofold, that helps with security measures and it also helps the school resource officers develop relationships with a larger number of students."
Sullivan said that not only does this develop personal rapport with students, but it provides a level of professional rapport as well-students can report suspicious behavior via an anonymous text service that goes directly to the SRO.
"In addition to that, we have a great relationship with the PD and they have their adopt-a-cop program where the patrol officers have a presence within our buildings ... and around the buildings that provide a heightened level of awareness," Sullivan added.
Even on the legislative side of things, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner believes that more support for SROs is the future as public concerns over school shootings are voiced around the nation.
"As we go forward, we'll have school resource officers as a part of every school," Wardner said. "They'll be just part of it. I don't see us turning back now."
Wardner said that the state would likely deal with funding additional SROs, with funding for the position being added onto existing education costs. Wardner was also clear that there'd be no adjustment or reconsideration of the state's recent decision to make it unnecessary to have a concealed carry permit.
What Wardner sees as the next step is to examine the subject of student mental health.
"Another area that we have to penetrate is mental health. And mental health is not-it's kids in school, there's things going on. I spent 32 years in education ... I was the assistant principal in Dickinson High School," Wardner said. "They have challenges (today) that we didn't have to deal with, so we will have to, along with a School Resource Officer, we'll have to figure out how to deal with the behavior of at-risk (students)."
Wardner also said that parents will also need to be mindful of their responsibilities.
"We need better parenting, period," Wardner said. "Those are things we're going to have to work on and some of those things we're going to have to work on sooner."
Social media has created a technological trial as well, Wardner said, as cyberbullying and all manner of bad behavior might be occurring without anyone's awareness-and that's on top of the struggles in searching for quality teachers, as the school district still has vacancies to fill.
"Just remember, we're having a hard time finding more quality teachers-you know what, I don't think it's always the money," Wardner said. "It has to do with school safety, safety in the classroom."
For now, though, VanDoorne watches the halls of Richardton-Taylor and other Stark County schools, while Dickinson Police Department has two officers on SRO duties within the city's school district. Their guiding mantra is Prevention, Intervention and Education.
"We're there to prevent crimes, certainly. We're there to intervene-maybe we see the subtle changes in a kid on a day-to-day basis, maybe we know something's not right," VanDoorne said. "We teach those kids how to have a safer environment."
SROs serve as bulwarks against bullying, Oestreich said, and that can be crucial in preventing future tragedies.
"One of the other things that the school resource officer does is, when you talk about killers who come into the school to kill our children, they are very cognizant of bullying," Oestreich said. "That is a thing that, where the vast majority of the students who shot up schools, there were bullying issues (where the shooter was the victim of bullying). So certainly the schools are very aware of bullying, but when you add the resource officer that's another dynamic to try and prevent the bullying issue. Certainly the ability of that officer to read the kids when they come in, because he sees them every day."