TV6 Investigates the role of school resource officers, how they keep your kids safe

In 2014, the OK2SAY program saw 601 tips. So far in 2023, the program has received 5,317 and there are still three months remaining in the year.
Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 3:52 PM EDT
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UPPER MICHIGAN, Mich. (WLUC) - According to the State of Michigan, threats to schools have increased significantly in the past nine years.

One of the people on the front line of these threats is Marquette Area Public Schools Resource Officer Jeff Czarny. He is responsible for the district’s eight schools and roughly 3,600 students.

Czarney says there are a few primary things he looks out for when performing a school safety check.

“All the doors are locked and shut to make sure nobody’s propped the door to run outside or do something, special base level windows if they’re open or to make sure they’re shut,” Czarny said.

Michigan’s OK2SAY program is a statewide confidential reporting system that allows students, faculty, and parents to report potential threats.

OK2SAY reports that school threat tips for 2023 have increased since the program was launched in 2014.

In 2014, the program saw 601 tips. So far in 2023, the program has received 5,317 and there are still three months remaining in the year.

Marquette City Police Det. Sgt. Nate Dawson says while his department’s call data for the previous school year hasn’t been released, it follows this same trend.

“I feel like we’re getting more and more every year and a lot of them are just things that are posted,” Dawson said. “People are angry, or they’re upset with somebody so they’ll say something, and then other kids or other parents will report that, and we’ll do a thorough investigation because we don’t want to brush anything aside. We don’t want to overlook anything.”

In the 2019-2020 school year, the Marquette Police Department received 545 calls involving Marquette Area Public Schools and Father Marquette Catholic Academy.

That number nearly doubled for the 2021-22 school year, at roughly 1,000 calls total.

Dawson says social media apps like Snapchat and Facebook are where most threats are found.

“Frankly a lot of our problems stem from threats, things like that, from Snapchat, Instagram, online through social media,” Dawson said. “So, we have a huge number of our threats that get investigated originate on social media platforms.”

To address the increase in threats, many schools across the state have added SROs this year thanks to a competitive grant program.

TV6 asked 68 districts in the U.P. if they currently have resource officers, and 43 said they do. Of the 43, 15 schools have added them this year.

The Tahquamenon Area Schools district is looking to add one in the future.

“I think the SRO would allow educators to be educators and allow, say the safety patrol person to resource officer to be the law enforcement to take care of those issues that just our time suckers when it comes to dealing with things that are against the law in a school,” Tahquamenon Area School District Superintendent Stacy Price said.

Price says although her district didn’t receive a grant for an SRO, that isn’t stopping her.

“The other part of a grant too is that they’re short-lived they’re not sustaining and if you’re trying to make an impact in a district you want to look at that long-range plan and what the long-range of keeping it going to mean and not always struggling every year to get that grant renewed or to find a different resource,” Price said.

Meanwhile, West Iron County Schools Superintendent Kevin Schmutzler says competitive grants are great for those who receive them. His district currently pays out of pocket for their SRO.

“If you don’t get the grant then you’re left out. Well, how’s that good for all kids in our State of Michigan now,” Schmutzler said. “So, get away from the competitive grants and please just give us money towards safety rather than be a competitive grant system or pick and choose who gets it and who doesn’t.”

West Iron County School District SRO Doug Weesner says outside of the grants, the state also provides guidance on how to keep schools safe.

“We have a very good system. It’s called a BTAM which is a Basic Threat Assessment Module, which has come out and it’s statewide,” Weesner said. “So, we use that, and we can identify students. It may have issues and then we can move into like interventions of talking to them managing and helping with their problems if they can be helped or get outside help from.”

Weesner says that preparation can drastically change how fast a threat can be handled.

“It takes response time for any situation down to like a minute where it would take longer for an outside officer to come out of the community and come into the schools. So that’s a major plus right there,” Weesner said.

And how are students feeling about officer presence in their schools? WIC High School Freshman Mason Ahola says having a resource officer makes him feel safer.

“Just because there’s an officer in the school doesn’t mean that the school’s a bad place. He’s only making it a better place by being here and helping people with what they might go through on a day-to-day basis,” Ahola said.

Both resource officers stress the importance of preventative intervention. They say the best way you can make sure school is safe is by checking in with your kids regularly. For more resources on school safety visit OK2SAY’s website.