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The days can be hectic.
There are countless fights to break up, reports to file, principals and teachers to meet, and crimes to be solved.
After all, schools are a microcosm of the community, with all the added complexities of student life.
But the hard work pays off for Anaheim Police Department’s investigators/school resource officers (SROs) and Sgt. Brennan Leininger, who oversees the team.
Together, Inv. Tyler Kisslan, Inv. Matt Meadows, Inv. Erin Moore, Inv. William Martinez, Officer Mari Borkowski, and Officer Kyle Poffenberger, cover 10 high schools, seven junior high schools, and 43 elementary schools in seven public school districts.
“The partnerships that you create within the community are amazing,” Moore said. “That was one of the things that appealed to me, and it’s been that way since.”
In addition, the SROs teach in the Orange County Gang Reduction and Intervention Partnership (GRIP) for 4–5 weeks out of every year, help with the Parents Supporting Parents program, hold school assemblies to teach young kids how to respond to bullying, hold active shooter safety training, and mentor at-risk youth.
“When we’re mentoring, we’re just re-establishing that education,” Moore said.
One success, for example, involved a high school student who had trained as a boxer in Guatemala. Borkowski reached out to Anaheim Cops 4 Kids and was able to connect him with a boxing training center and a coach who would train him for free, giving him a healthy outlet to deal with stress and frustration from school and home life.
“These kids go through so much,” Borkowski said. “I’m taken back by it… this is why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
Poffenberger recalled one student who had a lying problem until Poffenberger spoke to him about it.
“We had a very serious heart-to-heart talk… it had an impact on him and he changed his ways,” he said. “Now, whenever I’m on the campus if he sees me he’s running up to me to say hi, telling me how good he’s doing, telling me what he’s involved in.”
“The whole idea of us being here is to help the kids, so when you see you’re making a positive difference in their lives that’s really rewarding,” Poffenberger said.
The SROs also investigate threats to students, teachers, and schools that spread fast through word of mouth and social media. As quickly as possible, they track down the origin of the rumor and determine whether the threat is credible – including searching the student’s home to see if they have access to weapons.
“We take all threats seriously,” Leininger said, adding that one threat last year that spread on social media affected schools in Buena Park, Cypress, and Anaheim. “It was 48 hours nonstop working closely with other police departments, writing search warrants, identifying the student who wrote the post.”
“We have to stop them before it happens,” Leininger said.
Dr. Nabil Slim, school administrator at Gilbert High School, says having the SROs on campus has great advantages. Slim said officers have also alerted him to incoming students who have caused trouble at other schools, or to connections with crimes on other school campuses.
“They’ve benefited our students and our families greatly,” Slim said. “They really have created a connection between student behavior on our campus, as well as making that link between the behavior on campus and within the community, as well as building a relationship with those adults in the community.”
It takes dedication and a love of the job to field the constant phone calls, long hours, and heavy caseload that come with being an SRO.
“We all want to be here,” Moore said. “We understand that there’s a greater purpose, and that’s being out there to address what’s going on with our youth in our community, and with the people we build relationships with at our schools.”
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