School Police Departments: Training, Support, and the Right Officer

Posted by on February 17, 2010

Jack Martin, School Police Chief (ret)

Jack Martin, School Police Expert

Jack Martin knows the right school police officer with the proper training and support from school administrators can make a difference in protecting our nation’s schools. 

He also knows potential failure factors are countless.

Retired School Police Chief Brings Credentials, Experienced Perspective

Jack Martin retired after serving 12 years as Supervisor of Security and Chief of School Police for the Indianapolis (Indiana) Public Schools, where he was responsible for security and policing services for over 50,000 students, 6,000 employees, 110 schools and support facilities, and directing a department of 85 school police officers and civilian support personnel.  

Prior to his tenure with the Indianapolis Public Schools, Jack retired as a lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Army after serving over 25 years with the Military Police where he served worldwide in three different command positions plus numerous staff positions, including several involving all aspects of physical security and guard force development and management.  

“Too often, as soon as a person says ‘retired military,’ school folks are turned off.  But what I believe they do not realize the military services are youthful organizations.  As a Military Police officer in the US Army, I continually dealt with last year’s high school seniors; in many ways, it is just grade 13,” Jack said.

Jack has a B.A. degree in Political Science (University of Iowa), M.A. degree in Criminal Justice (Sam Houston State University), and M.A. in Human Resources Management (Pepperdine University).  He is also a Graduate, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.   

Jack holds an Indiana state certification as a school safety specialist and, extensive training in school security and emergency preparedness issues.  Jack has served on the U.S. Department of Education’s advisory assembly of school safety chiefs, as a charter member of the Indiana School Safety Specialists’ Academy Advisory Council, and as an advisory board member of the University of Louisville’s Center for Safe Urban Schools.   

Jack currently is President of The Martin Group and serves as a consultant to National School Safety and Security Services. He has presented nationally on school safety and provides expert witness and litigation consultation services to attorneys on matters related to school safety, security, and emergency preparedness issues.

School Police Departments: Success or Failure?

“A successful program takes great, dedicated personnel–officers who like kids; officers who are role models; officers who naturally develop a good rapport with their students; and officers who have and exercise good judgment.  To be successful, a program must also have support and the respect from the school system’s administration; from school staff and faculty; and from the community,” Jack stressed.  

“Community” equates to  mean parents, supporting law enforcement agencies, courts, hospitals, family services, mental health services, and other youth-serving agencies, according to Jack.  

“It is not easy to develop and maintain good working arrangements with each category I listed, but they are essential if a program is to operate to the best advantage for children,” he said. 

Failure factors are potentially countless, Jack says.  

On the part of a school district administration, program failure may well be preceded by a “We don’t have any problems” or an “It can’t happen here” attitude.  Such attitudes guarantee lip service only and very low priority to safety and security programs.

From within a department itself, failure factors include tunnel vision–when the only thought on officers’ minds is “cuff and stuff”–arrest and remove.  Another factor which may lead to failure is too many bosses–the school security department head; the law enforcement agency sheriff or chief; the school principal; etc.–each with differing agendas.

Jack says another sure way for a school safety and security department to fail is to try to be all things to all people.  

“Officers simply cannot take over all a school’s discipline matters; teachers must remain responsible for classroom discipline and must not be allowed to shift any of that responsibility to school officers,” Jack stressed.

In-House School Police or Outside Agency?

Whether a school district organizes its own school security department or chooses to employ School Resource Officers from its supporting law enforcement agency depends on many factors–including resources available and the general mindset of the community.  

Jack says with an in-house or proprietary department, there is the operating advantage of consistency of safety and security policies and procedures–as well as the ability to influence them by being involved as they are being discussed, debated, developed and promulgated.  

Additionally, an in-house department would consist of officers who really want to be there; it would not be just another assignment nor could it be used as a sort of banishment by a larger law enforcement agency.

Officer Training is Critical

According to Jack Martin, each school police officer must have the identical training as provided for officers in the local law enforcement agency.  This includes initial academy certification as well as for required annual training and qualifications.  The minimum standards must be the same.  

Jack believes officers wishing to work in schools should serve a sort of internship under the watchful eye of an experienced field training officer.  During this on-the-job-training period, the officer should learn everything from school policies and departmental procedures to required school paperwork and good ways to interact with students, staff, faculty and parents.  

For a lot of police officers, working in a school environment is like nothing they experienced previously.  They may or may not be good at it, Jack says.  He recommends a lengthy employment probation period; noting one full school year is not too long.

Superintendent Qualities Also Important

“I want to work with a superintendent who is accessible, honest, realistic, and who listens; someone who is open to the truth and does not shoot the messenger.  Additionally, I want to work with a superintendent who recognizes my department has a job to do and lets the department accomplish it with minimal interference,” Jack Martin says.  

The superintendent should understand the difference between school rules and state laws and recognize the place of officer discretion in the system.  

Jack said an ideal superintendent would not automatically roll over or fly-off-the-handle whenever a parent complains to a school board member.  Instead, the superintendent should first take the time to learn the facts of the situation and back the school district’s safety and security department personnel when warranted.   

Future Directions

Just as everyone else in a school system, safety and security departments are being asked to conform to the all-to-familiar cliche, do more with less, Jack says.  That is okay, but those asking must realize there is a point where performance will noticeably suffer.  

To help do more with less (meaning fewer people) requires reliable, up-to-date equipment. Jack believes a department must use new technology to advantage.  

Also, safety and security departments cannot be afraid of exploring new concepts and programs to help students.  “After all, that is the object of the exercise,” Jack concludes.  

*I am pleased to note that Jack Martin serves as a consultant to National School Safety and Security Services. Our thanks and appreciation for his time and insights.

Ken Trump

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