It’s National School Lunch Week, and Westminster PD School Resource Officer Jason Stouffer swaps his vest and some gear for a green apron and a white cap.
He drops a bread stick, a cup of ravioli, and yogurt onto the tray and slides one after another to a steady stream of hungry kids at Warner Middle School in Westminster, occasionally posing for pictures with students.
Meanwhile, principal Tiffany Harville is filming the scene on her phone, almost certainly to be part of a video interview segment Stouffer did with students a half hour earlier for their website. All of it Stouffer does with a smile. And the kids love it.
This is community policing. Crime prevention. And changing how teens — many of whom are immigrants or children of immigrants — view law enforcement. And Stouffer, a 17-year veteran of the Westminster PD, finds himself as the face of the new program that only began with this school year.
Stouffer’s involvement resonates with the city’s Project W mission and seeks to implement the community’s priorities. The city’s and police department’s commitment to providing the highest quality of service ensures that Westminster is a desirable place not only to live, work, and do business, but also a safe place for our youth to seek education and role models through our schools. Stouffer is setting a great example for all those who are and will be affected through this program.
“A lot of eyes are looking at me,” says Stouffer, understanding the weight of getting it right. “I’m setting a precedent for down the line.”
The idea of a school resource officer is hardly new, but insuring it works right for Westminster is part of Stouffer’s objective. Some people are already sold.
“Night and day,” Harville says quickly about the difference between this year and last. “You can tell he makes it a priority when there are so many needs out there. It’s crucial for me because sometimes there’s a gap between parents and schools. Hopefully, this creates a more trusting relationship — and nothing happens without relationships.”
Stouffer visits the school three days a week, part of his three-school routine. But part of what means so much to Harville is his availability.
“If I have an issue on Friday afternoon, I can text him and in 15 minutes, he’s here,” she says.
And that means a lot, because those issues can be at school or at a home, where Stouffer might occasionally have to check on a child who’s been delinquent.
Or where other, more serious things might be happening, like dealing with kids whose older siblings are gang members or who might work in gambling and drug dens called “slap houses.”
But sometimes, his job is as an advisor. Warner, like other schools, now has shelter-in-place drills, and having Stouffer there during the drill, Harville says, is “huge.”
“I work harder at this than on patrol,” he says. “The stress level is up there because I’m new. I want to set a precedent, but I don’t want to set the bar so high that somebody can’t follow.”
Harville’s gratitude for the difference he’s made at her school keeps her cautiously optimistic.
“I’m so eager to build him into every facet possible. Parents seeing him here is great,” she says.
Despite Stouffer’s early success, the program is still so new that he’ll begin three months of basic SRO training in January 2020. Of course, he’s a dad of three himself, so not all of it is new. Nevertheless, he’s careful not to overvalue that.
“It just gives you some inside look to what goes on at home,” he says.
As a group of kids rush him — for Westminster PD stickers — the positive effect is obvious. It helps Stouffer remain focused on being able to “influence them and keep them on the right track.”
But he continues trying to define his role carefully, making sure the fit is right for everyone – and making sure the example is as easy for kids to emulate as it is for future SROs.
“I’ll hang back and observe,” he says. “I’ve already told the school I’m not here to discipline, I’m here to guide and mentor.”