Resource officers explain their role on CUSD campuses - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Resource officers explain their role on CUSD campuses

September 30th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Resource officers explain their role on CUSD campuses

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

Dr. Craig Gilbert is the associate superintendent for K-12 educational services for the Chandler Unified School District. He is also a Black man.

“I don’t usually talk too much about this,” Gilbert said at the Sept. 14 CUSD Governing Board meeting. “Where I grew up, I will tell you, when I saw a police officer, I [had more fear than thinking] they were coming to help me.”

Gilbert was one of the presenters during a study session on school resource officers, the program that puts good guys with guns on the campuses of some CUSD junior high and high schools.

Board Member Lindsay Love said not everyone views them as good guys with guns and that some from Black and Hispanic and other minority communities are afraid of those officers.

“What do you do, though, with our students who are fearful of police?” Love asked. “They’re seeing things like Anthony Cano, who was gunned down last year by Chandler police, right? They’re seeing things on the news, right? With regards to relationships between police and unarmed people of color or people with disabilities, how do you overcome that?”

Cano, 17, of the Galveston area, was riding his bike home from the Boys & Girls Club when a police officer tried to pull him over in January 2021. Cano fled, and during the pursuit, pulled out a gun. He may have been trying to throw it away. Officer Chase Bebak-Miller shot Cano twice, the second time when Cano was lying face down on the ground. The Maricopa County Attorney did not charge the officer in that case.

Officer Stephen Dieu, the school resource officer at Chandler High, said he and his fellow SROs try to treat everyone with dignity and respect. They also try to be transparent.

“Some of these concepts are things that continually are reminded in my mind when interacting with those who might not have had a pleasant experience with law enforcement and it’s about building that bridge,” Dieu said.

CUSD has 11 school resource officers paid for through a combination of grants and district funding. They are: ACP Middle School, Andersen Junior High, Bogle Junior High, Santan Junior High, Willis Junior High, ACP High School, Basha High, Chandler High and Hamilton High.

One of those officers splits their time between two schools. Chandler Police Department provides the officers to nine of the schools. Two work for the Gilbert Police Department and cover Perry High and Perry Junior High while a Queen Creek Police officer works at Casteel High.

Dieu said the key to being a good SRO is to build relationships with the students. And he said that’s different for every officer.

And to help build those relationships in a positive manner, he said, assistant principals and/or deans hand out discipline at school. Officers shy away from going into a rowdy classroom to restore order when a substitute teacher may need help.

SROs are required to be on campus 80% of their work day. They also must teach 180 hours of law-related education each year. As part of that, they are required to attend law-related training. And they meet quarterly with the school safety team.

They are to be a resource for students, parents, teachers and staff.

Dieu gave an example of how that plays out.

“Students decided that they were going to mess around during lunch, some eighth-graders,” Dieu said. “There was a big commercial light on the side of a building. And they thought, ‘Oh, I can touch it’ and they just were competing. They were stepping up on the wall and they were reaching up on the top and pulling down, reaching up on the top and pulling it down, and as you would expect, it crashed.”

Dieu said the light was valued at $300.

“My principal was very aware of the circumstances that these youth had,” he said. “Sending them home doesn’t do any good. They’re struggling in their classes academically.”

Dieu said the principal looked at him and asked, what can you do?

With parental permission, Dieu had the boys spend four lunch periods improving the campus as a way of paying back for the damage they caused. He had some general contracting experience and directed them on ways they could make things better.

“At the end of those four days, I said, ‘You guys, you’ve worked so hard, this is so great.’ I mean, it was wonderful working side by side with them, addressing some of the needs of the campus. They looked at me, and they said, ‘What are we doing tomorrow?’ And it developed into what was referred to as the Urban Assault Team. Every day, they wanted a project.”

Chandler Police Department was recognized in 2021 as a “Model School Resource Officer Agency.”

It earned the recognition by focusing on three goals set by the National Association of School Resource Officers: Be a mentor; guest lecturer; and a law enforcement officer.

The Phoenix-based Law for Kids Academy noted Dieu is often called Super SRO” by colleagues,

“Officer Dieu has exceeded his requirements of LRE by almost 100 hours so far this school year,” it said. “Additionally, he assists with the neighboring elementary school to help with younger students and teachers.”

It also noted that he has “dedicated time outside of work to various organizations, including the Boy Scouts and a group which repairs homes of the elderly.”

Board member Love, who is Black, has expressed concerns about the SRO program in the past and said that not every student is happy to see armed officers on campus.

Patti Serrano, who is a candidate for the Governing Board in November’s election, has said the evidence suggests schools would be better off putting that money into counselors instead of officers. Serrano would be the first Latina member of the board if elected.

Gilbert, however, said he was able to overcome the distrust of officers that he had during his youth because of a school resource officer.

“I can tell you what changed my thought, or which moved me to look at it a different way, was an SRO,” Gilbert said. “It was actually an SRO that I befriended and got to know that changed my perspective. That’s not going to be for everybody, but … you have to be open to look for it, but it’s a two-way street.”