Valuable resource

LEWISTOWN – To assist with keeping an eye on the Mifflin County School District, Robert Haines patrols two of the schools in the district.

While Haines, Mifflin County Regional Police Department School Resource Officer, is responsible for the schools in the district that are not in the Borough of Lewistown, most of his time is spent at Mifflin County High School and Mifflin County Junior High School.

“A patrol officer will be assigned to one of the other schools in the district at the beginning of the day shift, and then they patrol it,” Haines explained. “If there is an incident at one of those schools I then go and handle it.”

Haines said they call him to handle the incident because of his knowledge of student incidents. He has gained the knowledge by being involved in patrolling the schools for about 15 years.

“When I first started the position was only a part-time one,” he said. “As the needs of the students and school changed, so the did position.”

Haines said while there are different departments involved in the protection of the district schools, all of the departments work together to keep an eye on the kids. This helps to keep the SRO program on the right track of trying to be proactive instead of reactive.

“My job here is to make the school environment a safe place,” he said. “If need be I am here to talk to a student about the consequences of their choices and to help guide them to make the correct choice.”

In this respect the SRO position is similar from the elementary level to the high school levels, because he is continuing to reinforce the idea that he is there as anther person the students can talk to. Haines said the rapport he has with the students is different than that at the younger ages not only because not only are there usually more problems, but also because students are a little more forthcoming with information.

“The students I talk to are not afraid to let me know what hurts them or tell me about what is going on,” he said. “This interconnection all goes back to being both a positive influence and presence.”

Haines said he believes he pulls more incidents than those officers on the regular patrol because of the journey to and from school, adding to the number of incidents that are included under his job description. The trip to the school and the trip home falls under the school’s responsibility, so he helps keep potential problems in place.

While there is not a typical day in a school day for Haines, there are some aspects of his job that happen each day. One of the things that happens is he drives around the two schools and makes sure there are no strange vehicles in the parking lots and to check for people who should not be out there. Haines said beyond the safety checks most of his day consists of being on the phone with different counseling agencies, and of course he works with the parents.

“I like having my office where it is because it allows me to funnel parents who are upset out of the main office and calm them down,” Haines explained. “This does two things, one, prevents disruption to the office and two, it keeps the students becoming involved by containing the person to a smaller area.”

When dealing with the counseling agencies, the social work of the job is working with students on a more personal level.

“When a student comes into my office with a question that I do not know the answer to, I do my best to find out and then communicate that answer to them,” he said.

This adds to the idea of being proactive and rather than reactive, and Haines believes one of the most important parts of prevention is to look for things and then do what needs to be done to fix the problem. On a normal day there are five to six students waiting outside of his office to talk about problems both in and out of school.

Haines said he uses a lot of the resources that have been provided by the school, including use of the school district database and keeping an eye on the cameras placed throughout the two schools.

“The cameras have been a key tool in reducing the violence at the schools,” he said. “The cameras that were already in place were updated, and new ones were installed in problem areas.”

Whether he is in his office at the high school or in at a computer in the main office at the junior high, he has access to the video stream of the cameras, which helps both when a problem first occurs and to find all those involved afterward.

“It is interesting seeing the reaction of a student when I show up after noticing something on the screens,” he said. “The reaction is ‘how did you know’ and I say the cameras.”

Like other SROs, Haines has done and would like to do more educational classes both for students and for parents. One of the events included seatbelt checks, which Haines said he found more parents violating seatbelt laws than the students. This event occurs several times a year, and by the end of the year the number of citations filed is smaller than from the beginning of the year, sometimes because people are merely more aware of what the law is. Focusing on student education Haines has taught several extracurricular classes that involve government, law, and even psychology.

“One of the classes I taught was all about breaking down criminal cases and studying the psychology behind it,” he explained.

Working and having quick access to the school administrators helps Haines to truly understand what is happening in the schools. He said he has radio communication with them and they all have his cell phone number to call if there is a problem. These school officials help him to do his job.

“The school administrators do a wonderful job of being seen and helping where and when they can,” Haines said.

Sometimes it is just standing around, being a presence during the lunch periods, but it is enough for students to know that he and they are there to help keep the school environment safe for them on a daily basis.