Brookfield school resource officer always thinks ‘what would I do if?’ How he helps keep kids safe

Back • Publication Date: August 29, 2022 • Education & Employment

BROOKFIELD — A bullet proof vest strapped to his chest with a handgun and stun gun on his belt, Sean Flynn stood ready with a smile underneath his sun glasses as new students filtered into the Whisconier Middle School building for a walk-around tour on Tuesday.“This is the best gig in police work,” Flynn said as he waived students in. “Hands down.”

The officer welcomed the results of the vote as one “adding additional layers of security,” but he was quick to point out the responsibility for keep students and teachers safe requires effort and communication from the entire school community.

“I don’t want to say that is strictly me or my role, because it’s not,” he added. “We have all the teachers, their eyes, all the students, their eyes, they are all part of the safety program I think.”

A graduate of New Fairfield High School, the 47-year-old Brookfield police officer joined the department in 2003 after working as correctional officer for the state’s prison system.

He recalled working as a patrol officer until 2012, when the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a tragedy that unfolded four days after the birth of one his two children, led him to apply to similar position in Brookfield’s schools.

At the time, the town’s school district did not have an established school resource officer program, the officer explained, prompting him to submit a proposal, later passed by the town’s Police Commission and its Board of Education, leading to the establishment of a police presence in the form of two cops assigned to the town’s middle school and high school.

Connecticut state law identifies a school resource officer as “a sworn police officer of a local law enforcement agency who has been assigned to a school pursuant to an agreement between the local or regional board of education and the chief of police of a local law enforcement agency.”

While there is no universal definition for the role at the national level, the first school resource officers in the United States came with a decision to assign police officers to public schools in Flint, Michigan in 1953, according to a report on the impact of school policing published by Connecticut Voices for Children; but the number of officers working in school buildings nationwide expanded significantly in the 1990’s and into the 21th century in response to school shootings and rising rates of youth crime.

In 1997, only 10 percent of schools nationwide had full time school resource officers; by 2015, three years after the tragedy at Sandy Hook, an estimated 42 percent of public schools had officers present in a school for at least one day of the week, according to the report.

According to Fran Rabinowitz, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, a recent survey found about half of all school districts in the state have school resource officers and roughly 11 percent of district use armed security guards — who are not members of a local police department but are required to be retired law enforcement officers in good standing.

‘Just like it was your own children’

Flynn recognized the evolving urgency and emotions around adding security to schools, but said he feels the nature of his role has remained constant – and it goes far beyond combating youth crime and making arrests, or protecting students from the threat of an outside intruder..

“I don’t think my role has changed,” he said. “I am still that counselor, that educator that teaches the kids about law-related topics and I am still a police officer but ‘enforcing the law’ is probably one of the (lowest priority) things I do here.”

Studies, including the CT Voices for Children , have found the presence of police officers in schools increases the amount of suspensions, expulsions, and arrests – particularly for students of color, but Flynn said discipline and making arrests are low on his list of priorities.

“Not that it doesn’t happen – but it is not the number one,” Flynn added, explaining that when it comes to providing school security, he is only one member of a wider team focused on the effort, including school administrators, custodians, the school committee, and the Board of Education.

The officer assigned to the middle school underlined the importance of building relationships with students and staff to achieve a safe learning environment, saying one of his main goals at the start of any school year is to learn students’ names, part of an approach to build bonds with students. If a student is sitting alone at lunch he will make an effort to sit beside them to make sure everything is okay.

“I am certainly not a mental health professional,” Flynn said. “I can’t diagnose or say what the cause for these tragedies are, but I think, with me, or with any staff member in the building it’s the bond you get with these students that you can tell, just like it was your own children, that something is off, or something is bothering them

“And if you know them well enough and if your staff is on the same page, you have a pretty good handle on your student population,” he said.

With so many components involved with his responsibilities and shared with other school staff and students — the police officer noted his duty to protect the school from the threat of an armed intruder remains solely his own.

“I am always thinking, what would I do if…and where would I be and where would I be coming from,” Flynn said.

“You may have to make your way over and not have everything that you need on you at that moment, but you know in your heart that you are going, and you are going to stop whatever threat is there from doing any harm, or any more harm, to anyone.”

Authors: Trevor Ballantyne •  Source: NewsTimes • View