School resource officers shed different light on law enforcement
November 4, 2015
Zach Nakaishi had experienced almost everything during nearly 10 years as a police officer with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office and Park City Police Department. He’d worked the patrol, been a corrections officer, handled investigations and doled out his share of traffic tickets.
But he can now check something else off the list: serve as a school resource officer.
Nakaishi is in his first year as the resource officer for the Park City School District’s Kearns Boulevard campus, comprising Park City High School, Treasure Mountain Junior High, McPolin Elementary School and the Park City Learning Center (Zagg Taylor, a detective with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, oversees the four other schools in the unincorporated areas of the district).
Though still relatively new to the job, Nakaishi said one of the reasons he applied for the position is the opportunity to change some students’ perspectives on police. He views that as one of resource officers’ most important roles.
"Probably 75 to 85 percent of the time, if we come into contact with a kid on the streets, it’s negative-based," he said. "That’s not to say they committed a crime, but maybe their parents were involved in a domestic dispute or maybe they were attending party they shouldn’t be at. But this is a chance to have positive interactions with them. I want to make their experiences positive, whether it be a simple conversation or a law enforcement class or something that shows them something different than what they’re hearing about police."
Nakaishi admits fostering a positive reputation has grown increasingly difficult in recent years, as police shootings across the country have drawn controversy and sparked a national debate about the role of law enforcement. But he said the work school resource officers do in providing safe environments for students can shine a different light on police work.
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"Unfortunately in today’s society, I think we have a public that doesn’t view the police like they should because of all the national cases that have come up," he said. "And I think this is a position that could be in the spotlight because of the positive things that we can do.
"Obviously the South Carolina case that came out hurts us," he said, referencing a recent case in which a resource officer was fired after his alleged assault of a student was caught on tape. "But you’ve got so many school resource officers nationwide that are doing great things and helping so many people."
Truancy, theft and bullying are the most common cases resource officers see — primarily at the junior high and high school levels — Nakaishi said. And the most important thing he can do when handling the cases is get to know the student body and develop a culture in which they know his door is always open.
"I tell them, ‘My job is hard enough, and your job is hard enough as a student — let’s bridge that gap,’" he said. "I want them to come talk to me. If it’s a concern about something happening, kids get this mindset that, ‘Hey, I don’t want to rat out my friends.’ And I get that. I was a high schooler. But at some point, the safety of the community and the safety of your friends should come before that. And if there’s a situation, you don’t have to be the snitch."
Another responsibility that falls on the shoulders of resource officers is protecting schools in emergency situations, such as if an active gunman appeared on campus. Nakaishi said that’s something his predecessors even a decade ago didn’t have to take as seriously as officers do now.
"These shootings are happening more frequently," said Nakaishi, who is in charge of holding training with the district for such an event. "Not only are they happening in the major metropolitan areas, but they’re happening in small towns just like Park City. I try to talk to everybody like, ‘Hey, it can happen here just as much as it can happen there.’"
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