Delaware Police Department: School resource officers show service side of role

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek
The Delaware Police Department's school resource officers are Joseph Kolp (left) and John Hartman. The officers' duties take them into Delaware City Schools and parochial schools in the city.

Delaware Police Department Capt. Adam Moore said he can remember when people would say things must be bad if police officers are stationed in public schools.

Although police do enforce the law, that's not the only reason the department has two school resource officers assigned to Delaware City Schools, Moore said.

Their duties include "making sure everybody's safe, physically safe, making sure the building's secure.”

“That's kind of the primary responsibility,” he said. “But beyond that, they also have an education piece where they're in the classroom, they're interacting with kids, they're providing education on many things that are kind of confronting kids these days that could be challenging, whether that be drugs and addiction issues or the internet or just personal safety, dating violence, a whole lot of things affecting kids," Moore said.

He said they also, to an extent, act as counselors.

"They're another trusted adult that students can go to and get advice, get help,” he said. “And maybe for whatever particular reason a student's not comfortable going to a teacher or counselor or somebody who works for the school. It kind of gives (students) an option of somebody a little separate from the school ... that they can go to and communicate with. It's really kind of a holistic approach ... to provide for these kids' safety."

The department's school resource officers, John Hartman and Joseph Kolp, said the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has led to some changes, even though the overall goals remain. Some Delaware families have opted to have their children learn remotely exclusively, whereas others follow a hybrid schedule of days spent in school buildings, alternating with remote learning.

Before the pandemic, Hartman said, officers had more face-to-face interaction with students.

That included "time with the kids and being around them, being in the hallways so they see you; they're familiar with you,” he said.

“And they see you in more of a nontypical role as a police officer. You want them to be able to be comfortable with you and to come to you," he said. "It's been more difficult now because of the (pandemic) restrictions ... to be creative and still try to reach out to kids. ...

“Any chance we get, we're trying to reach out to the kids and form some sort of relationship with them so that they're comfortable with coming to us if they need to," Hartman said.

"During the pandemic, it's just been trying to find new ways to engage with the students and families, and stay connected with them," Kolp said. "We've helped out with delivering free lunch meals. Over the summer, the schools passed out free meals to families.

“We've helped check on kids, like online students the schools haven't heard from in a couple of days. We'll swing by the house and check on the student and their family, make sure they don't need anything."

Kolp gave an example, describing one day when Hartman was preparing to take a student needing eyeglasses to an optometrist the next day because the family lacked transportation.

 Hartman said he and Kolp have set up Wi-Fi hotspots so students would have online access to their lessons. They've also delivered laptops to students, exchanged broken laptops and helped families connect with social services if they needed help paying for food or rent.

"It's a lot of things that you normally wouldn't think that police would do," Hartman said.

"The school resource officers are a valuable asset to our school team," Delaware City Schools Superintendent Heidi Kegley said.

The officers have adjusted their responsibilities within the schools and have been willing to assist in any ways that have been needed, she said.

“From accompanying our school staff to make home visits to check on students who weren't engaged in the learning process to helping deliver devices and hotspots, officers Kolp and Hartman have been eager to stay connected with our students," Kegley said.

Maintaining direct contact with students has a number of advantages, even if the contact occurs virtually during the pandemic, the officers said.

"We find out about a lot of things that are going on in these kids' lives by developing that relationship with them, whereas they may or may not have reported" things like sexual assault or drugs or violence in the home, Moore said.

"At the high school, I know it's helped a lot where they're comfortable coming and asking me a lot of the harder questions," Kolp said. "Obviously, there are a lot of topics on the news and social media in the last few months. It's been a good resource to be able to have that relationship where, when they see something on the news or on Facebook, they can come to me at lunch the next day and say, 'Hey, can you explain how this works?' or 'Why was this done?' It's helped out a lot with building that rapport with them."

Kolp said he hears from students even after they've graduated.

"Some in college still email, asking what college course they should take," he said.

Hartman cited similar experiences.

"I've had parents call in and tell me how their kids are doing now,” he said. “It's those kinds of lasting bonds that kind of prove that there's merit to the system and to the role. There can be significant interactions, but a lot of them start with a 'Good morning' in the drop-off line," he said.

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