Special Report: Roles of school resource officers changing

By: Taylor Temby Email
By: Taylor Temby Email

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -- From Columbine to Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary School, tragic shootings always put the school security questions on the forefront.

Teachers come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes they even come with a badge in the form of police officers.

“We were considered more counselors, educators," Grand Junction Police Department Commander Paul Quimby said of his position as a school resource officer.

In the 1980s, city mayor Jane Quimby's heart for education and the police came together in a program, one of the first of its kind in Colorado.

“It was obtained by a leaf grant in the early 80s," School District 51 director of safety Tim Leon said. “Mayor Quimby decided it was a worthwhile program [and] continued the program."

School resource officers were introduced into the classrooms of Mesa County Public Schools under her watch. Her son, Cmdr. Paul Quimby, says it was a program she was thrilled to introduce.

"She thought it was the perfect partnership to have officers make contact with kids at an early age to form those long lasting bonds," he said.

Officers were dressed in street clothes, taught classes and were friends to students.

“The fear was that if an officer was involved in any type of enforcement action with kids, that that would damage that relationship," Paul Quimby said.

Over time, however, things changed, and the SRO’s had to change, too.

“We live in a different society, a more, unfortunately, a more violent society and the problems have changed," Senator Steve King said. “The SRO's of today have to be very multifaceted."

A friend, teacher and positive influence transformed into an enforcer, watchdog and protector.

“Rightly or wrongly, [SRO’s are] now at least perceived to be much more of an enforcement position," WCCC department head of public safety Jane Quimby said. “They're perceived as being used by staff as helping them in maintaining order."

Quimby is the daughter of former mayor Jane Quimby, and served 25 years as a FBI agent.

Experts say the school resource officer's role began shifting even before any major school shootings, but events like the Columbine High School massacre heightened public awareness to the potential dangers in schools and parents and school administrators looked to someone who could protect their children.

“It’s a reflection of our society and how our values and how things have changed in the schools," Jane Quimby said.

“The protector role of the school resource officer, since he was already there, got raised to the top," Paul Quimby added.

Today, it’s a balancing act between old and new roles, but school violence, bullying and drugs will continue to impact school communities.

“[They have] more emphasis on looking and dealing with bullying situations, looking and dealing with violence situations,” Senator King said.

“[They still have] one-on-one contact with the kids, get into the classrooms, that's really where you gain the confidence of the kids," Leon added.

That’s why the SRO program will continue to grow and advance in time.

“Their role really needs to be expanded tremendously to have the impact that they could have," Paul Quimby said.

Even though some of the changes have been made for the better, mayor Jane Quimby’s children, Paul and Jane, say they’re not sure their mother would like the new roles SRO’s have.

"I think that her vision and that the original vision of that position was that it should be not an enforcement type position. I think maybe it's a sad reflection of our society that that's what it's

"She would be real pleased with the numbers and the expansion, but she would not like the change in the role, that things have gotten to the point where an officer in a school has to be there in a school with his primary function being the watchdog instead of being the mentor and the counselor,” Paul Quimby added.

Senator King has already introduced a bill involving SRO programs, and it’s passed its first hurdle. The bill will work to not only find federal funding to expand school resource officer programs, but will also help start SRO programs in schools that don't have the necessary resources.


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