Police presence at high schools growing

Seven more campuses to get resource officers

August 18, 1999|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Hereford High School students need not panic when they see Baltimore County police Officer J. Tom Weigle in his blue uniform, a holstered gun and handcuffs at his side, cruising their campus the first day of school Aug. 30.

The gregarious man -- a former college wrestler who says he hopes to mold young people without being overbearing -- is one of seven police officers who will start jobs at county high schools this fall, part of a Baltimore County program that began two years ago with two officers.

"When I heard about this opening, I jumped at it," Weigle said at a training session for school resource officers at Chesapeake High School in Essex yesterday. "This way I get out of the patrol car, and I get to talk one on one with the kids."

The school resource officer program, coordinated by the school system, Police Department and the state Department of Juvenile Justice, is intended to deter youthful misbehavior.

If all goes well, the program could expand to additional high schools by January. Those set to welcome school resource officers this fall are Hereford, Dundalk, Franklin, Kenwood, Overlea, Randallstown and Woodlawn.

The county's program complements a push by Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, the Maryland State Police and the State Department of Education to create safer schools statewide. This month, state police are sponsoring school violence seminars in counties throughout the state, including Charles, Washington and Garrett.

In Baltimore County, officials hope to set a model for school policing and protection that will reduce student absenteeism, suspensions, expulsions and arrests, said Dale Rauenzahn, the system's director of student services, who led Tuesday's training.

They have good reason to believe they can succeed. School resource Officers Don Bridges and Joe Goralczyk began the program two years ago at Milford Mill Academy and Pikesville High School, respectively. Since then, both campuses have seen positive changes, including a decrease in crime, officials said.

"This isn't just a public relations ploy," Rauenzahn said, referring to demands by the media and parents for increased school security after shootings in Colorado and Arkansas. "I truly believe that school resource officers have a real role in the high school setting."

Involvement is key to a school resource officer's success on campus, said Milford Mill Academy Principal Norman Smith, who praised Bridges for his "rumor control," in which he halts false stories before they incite arguments or fights.

Smith suggested that principals introduce the new school resource officer to the entire staff and that they explain the officer's duties. Students and parents should get a chance to meet the resource officer, too.

Otherwise, the sight of an armed police officer on campus can create anxiety, said Pikesville Principal Dorothy Hardin, who recalled how colleagues from other schools begged her for the "real" story behind the new police presence two years ago. They assumed it had to be something bad, Hardin said.

Two years later, if Goralczyk misses a day of work, students go to Hardin to ask her if he is sick, she said. Elderly neighbors depend on Goralczyk to check their back yards for intruders. Parents worry that he might not return for another school year.

"Joe is a member of our administration and part of our professional development," Hardin said. "He is in the classrooms. He is walking the halls. He is a member of the team."

Pub Date: 8/18/99

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