Several minutes after School Resource Officer Jason Stouffer and Vice Principal Matt White of Westminster High talk to the mother at the door to her home, a bleary-eyed boy appears.
David hasn’t been coming to school, even with the truncated hybrid schedule during the COVID-19 pandemic. He has also been lax in completing his online assignments or tuning in on Zoom. He is in danger of flunking out, being held back or sent to another high school.
His family could also face legal jeopardy if he continues to be chronically absent.
David’s mother says she has tried unsuccessfully to motivate her son to attend and now is pleading with school officials to try.
White explains the obligation to attend school. Stouffer talks sports with the boy to try and shake him from his lethargy.
If it’s a little like good cop, bad cop, in this case it helps that the good cop is the actual cop.
Stouffer said that before he came aboard, principals and staff would make the home visits.
“When (families and students) heard I’d be with them it was, like: ‘Whoa, they’re serious,’” he said.
Next the two visit the home of a girl who had been active and thriving in school before vanishing. Her brother says she has moved out of the house. Her parents have not returned phone calls from the school.
These are just a couple examples of what Stouffer and White encounter on a daily basis, problems big and small, crises real or imagined.
The situation with the boy is straightforward. White believes if the boy can be lured onto campus, particularly on the shortened schedule, he may be coaxed into staying.
The issue with the girl is more troubling.
“When you have a kid who is active and doing well and she suddenly stops coming, that throws up red flags,” White says.
To Stouffer, home visits are best part of his job. He enjoys being proactive at the onset of problems and, if possible, preventing them festering or becoming worse. As a school resource officer (SRO), he is often at a nexus point in the lives of students.
For Stouffer, 45, home visits for wayward children is something new. An 18-year veteran with the Westminster Police Department and an ex-Marine infantryman, Stouffer became the city’s first full-time SRO in September 2019.
The SRO program is a five-year pilot started in conjunction with the Westminster city council and school board.
The city enacted the program as part of Project W, a sweeping mission to implement community-oriented efforts throughout Westminster.
“We wanted to have an officer at the schools where he can interact with the school staff as well as the students and actually help the students understand what to expect from us if a critical incident does occur,” Commander Kevin MacCormick of the Westminster Police Department told ABC-7 News when the program launched in 2019.
About six months after Stouffer began settling into the job, the script was flipped with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of school campuses in March.
With the implementation of distance learning and, more recently, hybrid schedules, Stouffer said he is busier than ever.
“I could probably use, like, six more officers,” he says of his duties.
In addition to his duties patrolling high school and middle school campuses, Stouffer finds himself involved in myriad projects from helping distribute meals, to working out emergency and lockdown protocols and drills with faculty and staff, to community events and presentations.
Stouffer also makes upwards of 20 to 30 home visits per week, mainly to assess student safety, health, and welfare.
“Home visits are my primary function,” Stouffer said.
White said the number of home visits he and Stouffer make has risen “exponentially.”
Even in the case of the recalcitrant David, Stouffer said getting a glimpse of a student’s home situation helps him gauge the youngster.
“I like going to the families,” Stouffer said. “Now I can connect. I understand the environment they’re in. In pre-coronavirus times, you just saw a kid on campus. It’s definitely made my eyes more wide open.”
Westminster High Principal Amy Sabol said having Stouffer help with outreach during the pandemic has been invaluable.
“There’s a whole new set of challenges,” she said.
“Some parents have struggled to get kids moving,” she said. “They need that authority (that police provide).”
On campus, Stouffer’s presence is also beneficial. His presence has become a part of everyday life and makes interactions with students and staff easier, especially when he’s needed.
“The key thing is the relationship piece, cultivating a positive image that doesn’t come off as intimidating. There’s not the feeling it will be negative,” Sabol said.
And there’s the personal touch.
“Rather than just having someone come in who doesn’t know the school,” Sabol said, “he has familiarity. It’s not just a stranger.”
White said Stouffer’s friendliness also helps.
“We have students who go to him,” he said. “He’s able to build face-to-face relationships. Jason can say ‘Come over here, let’s talk about that.’”
Stouffer said an SRO position is not for everyone and requires openness and approachability that he tries to maintain. Another plus for administrators is they have Stouffer on speed dial.
“One of the best things they like is direct access to me, rather than the dispatch tree,” Stouffer said.
Out in the community, White says Stouffer’s presence makes a world of difference.
“When we go on home visits, it’s always positive. How can we help? For kids to see that in a police officer is huge,” he said.