By Sue Botos
As students return to classes at Goldwood Primary, Kensington Intermediate and Rocky River Middle School this week, parents should not be alarmed if their children come home talking about police visiting their schools.
Monday marked the start of the Cops on Patrol in Schools (COPS) program, a new initiative sponsored by Chief Kelly Stillman and the Rocky River Police Department. According to Stillman, the purpose of the program is to have officers visit each of the three schools daily, providing a safe environment and giving parents, students and staff the chance to interact with police in nonemergency situations.
Rocky River High School has had a full-time school resource officer, Mike Bernhardt, on duty for three years. While not part of the COPS program, Bernhardt serves a variety of roles, and has become a part of the school day for students.
Under the direction of Sgts. George Lichman and Ron Flowers, two patrol officers will visit the three schools Monday through Friday, spending about 10 to 20 minutes checking in with the principal and office staff, walking around the inside and outside of the building, and checking out any issues brought to their attention.
Stillman said in a recent interview that he and the sergeants “put their heads together” and tapped patrol officers Tom Schill, Ed Kolenc, Rich Bird and Monte Hamoui for COPS duty. Most of the officers have children of their own, added Stillman, and are looking forward to participating in the program.
At random times each day, Stillman explained, two officers will visit the three schools on a rotating basis, with one patrolman going to two schools, and the other to the remaining building. The visits will be a part of their regular patrol, and will not cost the district extra money. When the officers are present, their squad car will be parked in a prominent place.
Teachers have discussed the program with their classes so that the sight of a uniformed police officer will be an expected part of their day. During a presentation to the school board, Stillman emphasized that the officers don’t necessarily have to become part of the lesson plan, and that any involvement is at the teachers’ and principals’ discretion.
Stillman said that he and Lichman met with administrators in December for discussion and training. This week, he added, the officers are introducing themselves to school personnel and familiarizing themselves with the buildings and perimeters.
COPS programs were started in Los Angeles, Calif., and Washington state in the wake of last year’s shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Learning about the success of the initiative at the FBI National Academy in April, Stillman decided to bring it home. He stated that as far as he knows, this is the only program of its type in the state.
The end of the school year will bring review for the program, with input from both school personnel and the officers themselves. “We’ll see if there are any bumps in the road, and we can fine-tune it,” Stillman stated.
In a news release detailing the program, school Superintendent Michael Shoaf commented, “We welcome this opportunity to once again partner with the Rocky River Police Department. The COPS program adds another layer of security to our buildings and enhances the already positive relationship we have with the Rocky River Police Department.”