School resource officers wear many hats
By Julie Gerke
For the Jacksonville Police Department, the city is divided into four patrol zones. For JPD Officer Dave Turner, Jacksonville Middle School and the adjacent portable classrooms for Washington Elementary are the fifth.
The Washington classrooms sit on JMS property while Jacksonville School District 117 continues its renovation of the grade school. Turner, as JMS school resource officer, is responsible for about 700 JMS students, 220 Washington students, and the staff and teachers for both schools.
“I’m a real cop,” he explained to members of the 12-week JPD citizens academy. “I’m not [a security guard] or a rent-a-cop.”
Turner’s duties include safety, security, deterrence and investigations of thefts, drugs, assaults and disorderly conduct on the campus, but he’s also a de facto counselor, mentor, candy source and occasional hoops player.
“That’s my job: bridging the gap” between the police and kids, he said.
JPD Officer Craig Wright has the same responsibilities at Jacksonville High School. Their salaries are shared by the district and the police department; the officers work with the district, but answer to the police department. Turner and Wright also staff sports events and lead a two-week summer teen academy that stresses leadership and team building.
In August, they will start Explorers Post 117 for kids who have completed the teen academy and want to do more. “We’re trying to groom community leaders, is what we’re trying to do,” Turner said.
Among myriad duties, both officers also must plan and prepare for worst-case events, including shootings.
“There is pressure during training,” Turner said. “We try to make it as real as possible, so you know what to do when the stuff hits the fan … When there’s kids involved, [moving quickly becomes] instinctive. I’ll drive my car through the door [to get where needed].”
That prompted a question about the slow response of officers at the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting that left 19 students and two teachers dead.
The answer? Speed is critical. “You have to put your own safety aside, because there are kids inside getting shot,” said JPD Officer Phillip Warren, one of the academy’s leaders.
Turner’s position at the school means he gets a first-hand look at some newer problems: vaping pens loaded with marijuana, cannabis-infused lip balm, sexting, online bullying and sharing of inappropriate photos.
Turner and JPD Officer Katy Bettis said police try to go through city courts for lesser offenses involving juveniles and young adults. Depending on the situation, a student may be fined or ordered to perform community service, but the stigma — and sometimes, record — of adult court can be avoided.
With more serious offenses, or adult offenders, officers follow state criminal and traffic laws that are enforced by the circuit court and county prosecutors. Bettis said the laws are like branches on a tree, but the intricacy of sex crime law puts those offenses in a “tree” of their own.
She explained when Miranda rights need to be read, the difference between a pat-down and a search (“I’ve seen it all, so we check everything”), about ordinance violations, and about felony and misdemeanor charges.
She used in-car videos of actual accidents to emphasize the importance of child passenger seats and seat belts, and addressed graduated driver’s licenses for young drivers, in-car cellphone use and Scott’s Law.
The “slow down, move over” law orders motorists to give wide berth to any emergency vehicle with lights and sirens in use. As of Feb. 27, six state police cars have been hit this year, according to Illinois State Police. Some 23 state police cars were hit, and eight troopers injured in 2022.
Violators face fines of from $250 to $10,000 and the possibility of a mandatory license suspension.
Next week: A visit to the range