One-On-One with Officer Lynn Wright
Pine Bluff Police Department
Children throughout the United States are returning to school and Dispatch Associate Editor Amy Schapiro spoke with Officer Lynn Wright. Wright is a school resource officer (SRO) at Jack Robey Junior High School in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and he talked about what itís like to be an SRO and shared lessons learned on the job.
CP Dispatch: One of the key ingredients to successful community policing is building trust with the community. How do you, as a school resource officer, establish trust with the students?
Wright: Decision-making as an SRO is key. For example, last year was my first year in the schools and there were a lot of fights. I made it clear that if you fight you will end up in juvenile detention and I stuck to that. I didnít play favorites. It didnít matter if you were a cheerleader or the quarterback; everyone was under the same rules. If you broke the rules, you knew the consequences. Another key to building trust is being friendly and always having a good attitude when you communicate with the students. I also earned trust by helping them and answering questions about any and everything. I even learned some new words such as ďmean-muggingĒ which was a look that communicated you were ready to fight.
CP Dispatch: How is being an SRO different from what you were expecting?
Wright: Iíve been with the police department for 8 years, and prior to that I was in the military. Working in the schools was something I wanted to do. I wanted to work with kids and help mold them and keep them out of trouble. Itís been very rewarding, intangibly rewarding.
CP Dispatch: What lessons did you learn last year that you want to apply this year?
Wright: Make sure Iím always out there, always around them, learning their behaviors, in between classes, communicating, laughing, making sure everything is okay. Iím at the school 5 days a week and I have office hours which the kids take advantage of. They talk about home problems, teacher problems, and bullying. They really come in with everything ranging from A to Z. Each day is different and you never know what to expect. My daughter goes to the same school and oftentimes kids want to know what we talk about at home. I just let them know we talk about regular stuff like grades and basketball.
CP Dispatch: Can you give me examples of some successes you had addressing crime and disorder problems in the school?
Wright: Last year I started working in a junior high school that had 800 students who were all either in the eighth or ninth grade. Fights were a big problem. I set the tone early letting them know that there would be consequences of their actions. For example, on the street if you break the law you would be arrested. You have to abide by the law in and out of school, the same rules apply. Some students would regularly just punch people and think nothing of it. I explained it was a battery charge and they could go to jail. They thought it was joke. It wasnít. If they were in a fight they would go to the juvenile detention center. We have a zero tolerance policy. Starting that second semester, there were hardly any fights. There used to be two to three fights a week, but the students got the message. They understood what the consequences of their actions would be. The teachers and administrators saw a big turn around, too. Having a police presence in the school was an effective deterrent to the disorder problems the school had been experiencing.
CP Dispatch: How closely do you work with the administrators and teachers?
Wright: We work hand in hand with the administrators and teachers. Oftentimes, teachers invite me to their classes and Iíll teach the students about misdemeanor laws or give a drug presentation. My classroom time is constant and appreciated.
CP Dispatch: What advice do you have for other school resource officers?
Wright: Iíd say the three most important things are to: 1. Communicate; 2. Learn their language; and 3. Be friendly. You can be stern, but always keep a smile on your face. Itís important to be fair, honest, and consistent. And, if youíre friendly you will have the students on your side. I really enjoy this job, working with the kidsóitís like working with 800 personalities and it is very rewarding.
Officer Lynn Wright is an 8-year veteran of the Pine Bluffs (Arkansas) Police Department and a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. This will be his second year as a school resource officer.