Zina: Officers not there as enforcers

LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i Police Department officers are returning to the island’s three public high schools following temporary reassignment at the height of the pandemic.

The School Resource Officers were moved to the KPD Patrol Services Bureau to support special coronavirus-related operations, including coverage of health-screening checkpoints.

SROs do not operate in a punitive capacity, according to state Department of Education Kaua‘i Area Superintendent Paul Zina.

“We really want them to take the stance of an educational partner with the teacher and the school, as opposed to being some enforcer of the law on a school campus,” Zina said.

“So, yes, while they are police officers, we do value them as co-educators with the teachers, and they help us with very-teachable moments on very specific student behaviors that would fall under their realm of responsibility,” he said.

The KPD SRO initiative has been in place since at least 2001. It provides fifth- and seventh-grade curriculums in addition to staffing the Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i and Waimea high schools with one officer each.

“The goal of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) and the SRO program is to provide safe learning environments in our nation’s schools, provide valuable resources to staff, foster a positive relationship with our nation’s youth, and develop strategies to resolve problems affecting our youth, with the goal of protecting every child so they can reach their fullest potential,” KPD Lt. Anthony Morita said in an email.

In addition to serving as education consultants and liaisons between schools and KPD, SROs provide counseling and mentorship, according to Morita.

“The SROs also conduct various presentations to include the nationally recognized DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, which includes segments on anti-bullying and social media,” he wrote.

Zina said the officers’ consistent presence on school grounds is key to the program’s efficacy.

“Being around and knowing the kids on their daily operations, and how they are interacting with each other on a daily basis, allows them to get to know the students much more intimately,” he said. “They very often get involved in the students’ academic lives and other types of behavior around campus, just by being there everyday, and that lets them get to know, on a much more personal level, what the students are doing.”

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Scott Yunker, general assignment reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or syunker@thegardenisland.com.

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