Re­source Of­fi­cers Of­fer Help

McDonald County Press - - FRONT PAGE - Sally Car­roll McDon­ald County Press scar­roll@nwadg.com

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

have chal­lenges.

“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.

Tough Job

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.”

SALLY CAR­ROLL/MCDON­ALD COUNTY PRESS

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.

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