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School-House Police Need New Tactics, Association Leader Says

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Mass shootings have changed the culture of school security. Locked doors, cameras, metal detectors all are common now. So are police officers, known as school resource officers. In Baltimore County, Md., officers are in every middle school and high school. They carry guns, and that's not all.

DON BRIDGES: They have handcuffs, mace, flashlights, baton. Presently, we do not carry Tasers.

WERTHEIMER: That's Don Bridges. He's a school resource officer at Franklin High in Reisterstown, Md. He's also vice president of the National Association of School Resource Officers, which offers training around the nation. The role of schoolhouse police has come under new scrutiny since the release of a viral video, showing an officer throwing a student to the floor in a South Carolina classroom. Bridges was among those horrified by the violence in the video.

BRIDGES: It was a reaction of shock. It was a reaction of concern.

WERTHEIMER: Bridges believes police belong in schools, but says they don't always need to use traditional tactics.

BRIDGES: One of the things that I do is I will get on the phone and I will call the parent. That is the number one thing that I think more school-based leaders, SROs and people that are in charge of children should do - include the parent. Every interaction that you have with the child does not have to be punitive.

WERTHEIMER: People who work with kids all the time, they understand that teenagers are, you know, not entirely responsible, that every once in a while they go off. How do you teach police officers to give the kid a little bit of room?

BRIDGES: One of the classes we teach to all of our officers is the development of the adolescent mind, so that they understand how the adolescent brain works and that we know that that brain is not fully developed until the age of 21. One of the other things we do is that we make it clear that discipline is not the job of the school resource officer.

WERTHEIMER: Do you think police officers really should be in in school, or is this a - like, an unfortunate development that somehow it's become standard that they're there?

BRIDGES: I think that is the best thing since sliced bread...

WERTHEIMER: Yeah?

BRIDGES: ...Because what it does is it gives young people an opportunity to be familiar with law enforcement. As an officer that has served in my particular school since 2002, the relationships between the students, between the families has been just remarkable. And I will oftentimes have kids that will stop back by the school just to share with me what is going on within their lives.

WERTHEIMER: You must every once in a while have encountered a kid who was just flat breaking the law - selling drugs, for example?

BRIDGES: Yes. And one of the things that our program has is we have a juvenile diversion program. So if something happens where an individual child has been charged with a misdemeanor crime - which is what happens within schools most of the time anyway - rather than having that kid go into a court proceeding, we have a police officer that partners with someone from juvenile services and they have that child go through a six-week or 12-week program. And in the end, that child gets no criminal charge. And I can tell you that our numbers say that the recidivism rate within that program for us is very, very low. And I think that every agency in the nation that has a school resource officer program should have a diversion component so that when kids are charged, we're doing more of the teaching.

WERTHEIMER: Don Bridges is a school resource officer at Franklin High School in Reisterstown, Md. Officer Bridges, thank you very much.

BRIDGES: Thank you for this opportunity. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.