Resource Officers Offer Help
When officials launch a new “Pre-Game With Police” program on Aug. 31, McDonald County teens will have the opportunity to have fun and hang out with law enforcement officials in a groundbreaking community reach-out idea.
McDonald County Schools Resource Officer Buck Owen said the new program will take place before all home games and some away games.
The “Pre-Game With Police” program will start right after school and conclude when the football game starts. Teens and youngsters will have the chance to enjoy hot dogs, drinks, corn hole, other fun games and have a chance to get to know police officers in a positive environment, Owen said.
Owen, a certified police officer, and Dereck Price, a juvenile officer, combine efforts to serve the McDonald County School District as its two resource officers.
The two split their time between 11 buildings on McDonald County School campuses, including the high school, Mustang Academy, Anderson Middle School and Elementary, Pineville Primary and Elementary, Southwest City, Noel Primary and Elementary, Rocky Comfort and White Rock.
They listen — and sometimes laugh — as they build relationships with school children and teenagers.
The two utilize their strengths to show they care while holding others accountable for their actions. They strive to be extremely approachable and helpful.
The two hope the youngsters and teens will see them as allies — not adversaries — when they
“When we spend time with the kids, we hope they see us in a more positive role, that we’re here to help them out,” Owen said.
It’s a big gig. Owen and Price make a powerhouse team, alternating between being tough as nails but compassionate and caring.
They take their responsibilities to heart, making sure they can help out each youngster or teen as much as they can.
Price has several years of experience working as a juvenile officer. For the past six years, he has worked fulltime as a juvenile officer, with his time divided between Newton and McDonald counties.
His time was limited to one day a week in McDonald County, but the school hired him on full-time in January.
In his day-to-day business, Price sees abused or neglected youth and, oftentimes, sees youngsters in “vulnerable situations and they don’t know what to do.”
Price is motivated to get to the root of the problem when faced with a challenging situation. Kids who act out aggressively, or do drugs, have a problem impacting them negatively.
“There’s always more to the story,” Price said.
Owen left behind a six-figure salary to work in McDonald County. Now in his third year, he and Price are reaping the benefits of the work they’ve planted early on.
The school system has taken a proactive approach to the resource officer program, fully backing the two officers and giving them the breadth and authority to take care of business.
The role is different than that of a police officer on the street, Owen explains. “The school is flexible with our positions,” he said. “You can’t treat an SRO like another cop.”
One difference, they said, is seeing a situation from its beginning to its conclusion. If a police officer is working the street, he might write a ticket and have the situation concluded from his perspective.
From Owen and Price’s standpoint, however, a student situation may be ongoing for some time.
“You see a child tore up by a situation and you have to deal with that,” Owen said. “We follow that case all the way through.”
Owen sometimes gets a call at 10 at night or 2 in the morning from a teen who needs help.
He might be a teen to whom Owen wrote a ticket at one time.
“A kid might say, ‘I know he’ll hold my feet to the fire, but he’ll be there for me,’” Owen said.
The school resource officer program is a collaborative effort between the school system, law enforcement, children’s division and other agencies to create an infrastructure of working together for the best of a child or teen.
“They’re all on my speed dial,” Owen said.
The “Pre-Game With Police” program idea is one more way to try to reach and connect with McDonald County youth. The idea grew from the positive impact of the “Breakfast With the Brass” program, where teens have the chance to start their day with local judges, chiefs of police and other community leaders.
The breakfast affords teens the opportunity to mix and mingle and see those in leadership positions in a more positive atmosphere, Owen said.
Due to its success, and thanks to the support of the school board and administration, the breakfast is now fully funded, Owen added.
Creating A Caring Stronghold
Owen and Price see a lot of issues, from suicidal teens to bullying situations, to drug abuse, sexual abuse and delinquent or bad behavior.
On bad days, they remember a couple of recent outreaches to thank them for getting into the trenches.
Price received an email from a student who told him she appreciated all of his efforts. She’s now enrolled in college and really turned her life around, Price said.
Another former student, who was constantly in trouble, told them he had worked all summer, saved his money and was now enrolled in college.
“They’re the ones that keep you going,” Owen said.
With the backing of the Missouri 40th Judicial Circuit Court, Price sees improvement in situations and growth in teens via a treatment court, formerly known as drug court. The intensive program helps the teens navigate through the challenges they face.
“We see a lot of kids, who have gone from not going to school, flunking, using substances and on the road to prison or death … when the light flips on, we see them make a positive change,” Price said.
Experiencing a wide variety of tough situations can be leveling. How do Owen and Price deal with the stress?
Price said they both have good wives and good families who understand their tough line of work. That support system assists them in working through their stress.
Owen said lying awake at night and thinking about a situation can be commonplace. Sometimes, they want to fix every situation. In the worse case scenario, they blame themselves for lack of figuring out the problem.
Placing handcuffs on a kid is a failure on their part, Owen said.
“It’s the worst feeling in the world,” he said. “It means I failed that kid,” Owen said.
The team believes there are many positive results and much groundwork that pays off in future years. Improvements are made, positive relationships established, personal growth takes place.
And with support from the school system, the two are anxious to kick off a new year, trying to make a difference every day in the lives of McDonald County children and teens.
“I am passionate about it,” Owen said. “It’s an investment in our kids. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Buck Owen (left) and Dereck Price show off the School Resource Officer vehicle that will be wrapped this week with a special design. McDonald County students designed various styles and then voted on their favorite. The car will sport the new design this week. Resource officers assist students at 11 buildings on different school campuses in McDonald County.