School resource officer connects with students
In the few years School Resource Officer Sgt. Brandon Stockie has been on the job, no student has brought a gun to school.
Stockie has an office at Dickinson High School and his fellow SRO, Tiffany Whinery, bases herself out of the new Dickinson Middle School. Together they cover the whole school district, assigning elementary schools between the two. While security is the goal of the job, it encompasses a lot more than that.
"Day-to-day stuff is, we're in the schools for safety and security stuff. We're there to investigate any crimes that happen there on school property," Stockie said. "We do a lot of classes, do a lot of teaching, law enforcement topics or discuss drug, alcohol awareness—we both teach Drug Abuse Resistance Education to our seventh-graders. We are an informal counselor—our door is always open, kids come in all the time."
Stockie has been a police officer for Dickinson Police Department for 10 years—he's spent most of that on patrol duty. Transitioning to becoming the SRO was a natural result of him getting involved in drug prevention education.
"I guess I've been a cop for 10 years, I started out in patrol ... did that for seven years, eight years ... started teaching D.A.R.E when we started that program in 2014 and that got me into the schools, around kids," Stockie said. "I have kids myself and I thought I could make an impact in this job as opposed to just doing patrols."
Stockie's background in the D.A.R.E program has provided him a familiarity with the students—many of those same middle schoolers he taught are now high schoolers who come to see him.
"Once they got to know me we've had no issues at all," Stockie said. "I want to say that the junior class was my first D.A.R.E. class so most of those kids, junior down, they've seen me, they all know who I am; there's no issues there at all."
Dickinson High School Principal Ron Dockter said that having an SRO has been "very valuable".
"We look at intervention, education and prevention. As the name implies—resource—he or she is very good at finding different resources to help us out," Dockter said in a phone interview. "He becomes a working member of our team, just like any other staff member. He goes into the classroom."
Stockie said students come to him for all manner of problems, some particular to law enforcement, like discussing speeding tickets, and others about life in general. Stockie said being present and open for communication both serve the same goal of good police work.
"I think there's been studies ... that just driving around a neighborhood prevents crime. I think with a cop in a school prevents crime," Stockie said. "I also think that communication, most kids, most people don't automatically know cops. It's hard for society now to decide if they like cops, if they don't like cops, so with me there it opens that door. They get to know I'm a person. We talk about the mistakes I made in my life—I talk about how I made these mistakes when I was younger and look at where I am now, you can overcome these mistakes."
Since the SRO position was created in 2007, it was a solitary duty. As of this year, Stockie has a second officer under him, and he said the impact has been huge.
"Before I was doing it all myself, all the schools ... there's approximately 3,700 kids in the school district, I was doing it all myself so I wasn't able to be as proactive with the kids as I wanted to be, getting out into the hallways—that was tough because I was so busy with other schools. Now with the two of us mostly being in that middle school and high school, we can get out there more."
As the program has already grown, it seems unlikely that the role of an SRO will go away any time soon. Dockter said that for DHS to lose their officer would be a detriment to the school.
"We would not be very happy if we didn't have one anymore," Dockter said. "We've been very fortunate that we've had very good people in the role."
As Stockie and Whinery base themselves out of the high school and middle school respectively, they come into elementary schools when called—but other members of DPD provide assistance to ensure elementary schools have law enforcement nearby.
"Elementary schools, we have them assigned to us. If they call us we go down there, but also our patrol staff adopts a school. So they go there in their uniform as patrol officers every day, they walk by those schools and they drive by those schools. They are more responsible for those elementary schools because they know we can't get down there," Stockie said. "Some elementary schools call them 'Officer Friendly's."