September 8, 2008

Newark School Cops Keep the Peace

By Ben Aguirre Jr

NEWARK -- When you send your children to school, there always is someone looking out for them -- principals, teachers and administrators.

But when the students get to the junior high and high school levels in Newark, there is an extra set of eyes watching over them, and they do not belong to your average school employee -- these eyes belong to a person who wears a badge and carries a gun.

At Newark Junior High School and Newark Memorial High School, there always seems to be a police car parked out front.

That's because each campus has its own school resource officer, a city police officer whose duties include, among other things, maintaining safety at the schools and making sure students have positive interactions with police.

"It's important for safety on campus," said Officer Aaron Slater, who just started his first year as the school resource officer, or SRO, at Newark Junior High. "It helps students feel safe."

Slater is a 33-year-old former police dispatcher who fewer than three years ago became a sworn officer. He started his law enforcement career in the dispatch center at the police department in Napa.

After graduating from Arizona State University in 2000 with a degree in accounting, he came to the Bay Area, attended the police academy in San Francisco, and then patrolled the streets there for about a year. He was hired in Newark in December 2006.

Through his tenure as the SRO, an assignment that lasts three years, Slater will have an opportunity to meet nearly every student who attends the junior high.

Three times a week he teaches a course called Gang Resistance Education And Training, or GREAT, which is designed to deter students from joining gangs.

"I'll work with the kids and teach them life skills," Slater said.

When he's not teaching that class, he'll be on campus, sometimes counseling students and mediating disputes between pupils, which was the case on Wednesday -- his second day on the job.

"Emotions run high at this age," he said.

Across town at Newark Memorial, Tina Knutson has again set up shop as SRO of the high school.

The seven-year police veteran is entering her second year in the position, something to which she's looking forward.

"I'm much more prepared than I was last year," she said.

Knutson, 35, grew up with aspirations of becoming a teacher -- she holds two degrees from Minnesota State University -- and in her current position, she's been able to use law enforcement as a vehicle to work with kids.

"I really like high school kids," she said.

One of the most rewarding aspects of her job at the high school is sitting down behind closed doors with students after they've gotten in trouble.

"That's when you get to see who they really are -- when they're without their friends," she said.

Unfortunately, she said, some students tend to go right back to their troubled ways as soon as they walk out the door.

In addition to counseling students on campus, Knutson said part of the job involves being available to parents should they need help getting through to their children -- something of which she's not sure all mothers and fathers are aware.

To contact Officer Aaron Slater, call Newark Junior High School at 510-818-3000. For Officer Tina Knutson, contact Newark Memorial High School at 510-818-4300. Both officers also can be reached through the Newark Police Department at 510-578-4237.

Staff writer Ben Aguirre Jr. can be reached at 510-353-7011 or [email protected]

Originally published by Ben Aguirre Jr., The Argus.

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