It has been reported that some candidates in the Minneapolis mayoral contest favor eliminating school resource officers in the public schools. That is an ill-conceived position. Perhaps they came to that conclusion after seeing the widely viewed abusive treatment of a student during an arrest. That did not take place in Minneapolis, is the rare exception and disregards generations of great work in our schools by Minneapolis police officers. Perhaps the candidates don’t know that making arrests is far down the list of the duties of an SRO.
I don’t believe that those candidates are products of the Minneapolis Public Schools, but I am. I attended Horace Mann elementary, Bryant Junior High and Minneapolis Central High School. All were working-class schools with diverse student bodies. We all knew our school police officers. At the elementary level, there was School Patrol Officer Stanley McLeod. In the upper grades and high school, there were a number of officers, including Kym Workcuff and Riley Gilchrist, two of the few African-American officers in the Minneapolis Police Department. They provided protection, guidance and mentorship for all students. It continues today with officers such as Charlie Adams at North High School.
I started as a patrol officer with MPD in 1975. By 1976, I was working part time at my alma mater, Central High, and later after Central closed, at South High. I worked patrol in the neighborhoods around those schools where I grew up. Knowing the students as individuals, and they me, helped diffuse hostility on many occasions. I was granted and shown respect, allowing dialogue rather than force and arrest to resolve disputes.
In my later years with MPD, I was the Fifth Precinct commander and, finally, deputy chief for nine years. I received many calls and letters of thanks for the actions of officers, some quite heroic. I was never as gratified as when I received both a letter and call about the work of Officer Tom Ryan, the liaison at South High. An African-American mother explained how her daughter had gotten involved with gangs, drugs, prostitution and an abusive relationship. Tom had taken a personal interest and had checked in with the student both a.m. and p.m., every day. Was she getting to class? Was her homework done? Did she have lunch money? Was that guy leaving her alone? Her mother credited Tom’s compassion and commitment with her daughter’s turning things around.
I recently told that story and was asked if that all wasn’t something a school social worker could do. Perhaps some of it, but when it comes to providing actual physical safety and protection, including use of the law if necessary — that is a police officer.
Like most aware Americans, I understand the criticality of improving relations between police departments and diverse communities. That would include encouraging city kids, especially those of color, to become police officers. That requires role models. In my 40 years of police service in this city, SROs are some of the finest role models I have met. Curtailing that relationship would be grievously counterproductive.
In addition to his work with the Minneapolis Police Department, Greg Hestness is also a former University of Minnesota police chief.