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Cover Story

Adventures in Law Enforcement

Their beats are somewhat off the usual path, but these law enforcement professionals take care of business.

March 01, 1999  |  by Rebecca Stone

Illinois State Troopers- Air One

When the Chicago Police Departments needs a helicopter unit, they call the Illinois State Police's Air One. The Illinois State Police Helicopter Unit, headed by Bureau Chief Master Sgt. Robert Haley, was created in 1995 with the mission of providing assistance to local law enforcement agencies. Trooper Michael Size, who serves as a flight officer, said that the types of service rendered most commonly include criminal seraches and pursuits, though surveillance, searches for missing person and missing children are not unheard of.

Size said that crews aboard the unit's two helicopters at any one time, include a flight officer and a pilot. Pilots currently are predominately civilians, with only two out of either being sworn officers. There are nine flight officers, with the two pilots occasionally doubling as flight officers.

Size, who has working with the unit since its inception four years ago, said that he is working towards becoming a pilot. In fact, he said Air One is in transition in that it is aiming to make pilots out of all of its flight officers, essentially de-civilianizing.

Size said that for years the Midwest never had any airborne units. Today, the Illinois State Police have one helicopter, a Bell Oh- 58 A+, in the Chicago area while one other helicopter, a Bell 206 JetRanger, lies in wait in Springfield. The response has been positive.

"We're based in Chicago, but cover a six- county area around Chicago," said Size, who added that most of their work is in outlying areas.

Of the benefits of their air unit, Size said, "We're there to give local departments an aerial platform. Most local departments can't afford their own helicopters so we provide assistance 24 hours a day."

As most other members of airborne units have reported, helicopter use during pursuits is given high marks. Said Size, "Often the vehicle will slow down as soon as they're not being chased."

As for equipment, similarly to other units, Air One helicopters are equipped with thermal imaging/ video systems which provide a 360-degree perspective, spotlights, tactical radios, and laptop computers with a street mapping system.

Size sees his unit as being a major asset to the community he serves. "If there's a situation that develops, like a missing child, a smaller department might be hampered and spend hours searching on the ground. We can cover a large area in a much shorter time. It's a real time saver."

School Police: Making the Grade in A Specialized Field

Increased school populations have led to a demand for increased security at schools. Sometimes a school district may maintain a security force and call local police for assistance on crimes and other law enforcement matters. But other districts go one step beyond, participating in school resource officer programs or creating sworn police agencies under respective state laws. School police, then, are not security guards but sworn law officers, assigned to walk the K- 12 beat. It's a job perhaps even more demanding than any street detail.

School Resource Officers

Thanks, in part, to the Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing program, an increasing number of school resource officer programs have been taking off. It's not a new concept, though, and involves a municipal police department assigning an officer to a school campus.

In this instance, officers are often called School Resource Officers (SROs). Officer Sean Burke, of the Lawrence (Mass.) Police Department, and Officer David Kamleiter, of the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Police Department, are examples of this. Burke and Kamleiter are both affiliated with the National School Resource Officers Association, headed by Director Curtis Laverello. They work in areas that are on opposite ends of the country and that are polar opposites, economically speaking. Both, however, are convinced that an officer presence is of great value in schools, no matter what agency the officer works for.

The two officers did acknowledge an inherent problem for SROs: At any time they may be transferred or promoted out of a school assignment, disrupting any continuity that's been built. But they don't seem to see this as an insurmountable obstacle.

Said Burke, "I think the thing that helps you is that once you bond with the community or the school district, they may actually put pressure on the police department to keep you where you are. I know SROs who have turned down promotions so they could stay at the school."

Of working as an SRO, Kamleiter said, "It's the first time ever, in my career in law enforcement where you can actually see yourself making a difference in these young adolescent lives."

Los Angeles Unified School District

"You have to be extremely flexible to work in our department," said Officer Russ Orlando of the Los Angeles Unified School District Police. The department which started in 1948, currently fields approximately 300 sworn officers in 27 geographical areas, under the stewardship of Chief Wesley c. Mitchell. The department serves the second largest school system in the nation. LAUSD officers are responsible for protecting students, staff, citizens and property on and in the vicinity of 900 campuses through the district.

The LAUSD comprises several units which include campus officer, patrol officer, training officer, detective and traffic enforcement units, a full- time bicycle patrol unit, and an 18- member special response team.

Because of the academic nature of the assignment, educational standards are also high. As many as 60 percent of officers hold college degrees.

Throughout the urban sprawl of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and including 13 contract cities, situations encountered by LAUSD police often involve fights, guns and other weapons and drugs, Orlando told Police. Also, as the areas they work in cross city lines, officers must know all the procedures of those different cities and must often work in concert with other agencies.

Orlando said that though the most common problem encountered by LAUSD officers is possession of tobacco or marijuana, truancy is probably the greatest problem. "A lot of daytime burglary is linked to truancy," he said, adding that bike patrols have made a difference in the area.

To help curtail this activity further, officers not only pick up the young miscreants, cite them and return them to school, but often become involved in after- school programs, such as a girl's basketball camp, overseen by Officer Anthony and run in conjunction with the Police Athletic League. In addition, the department sponsors a district wide scholarship program for graduating seniors.

Orlando told POLICE that he enjoys his career. "You see high school students come in as ninth graders and go out as 12th graders. You bond with the kids - whether they're good, bad, or gang members. We can be role models and can make a profound different in someone's life." He said that it is not uncommon to find one-time students who were so influenced by school police officers themselves.

Palm Beach County School District

Headed by Chief James Kelly, the Palm Beach County School District Police Department takes care of law enforcement duties in the largest county (with a population of approximately 1 million) east of the Mississippi.

"We started a while before they coined the term 'school resource officer,'" said Kelly of his department which was started with federal grants more than 20 years ago.

The department currently fields 98 sworn officers with anywhere from two to 20 years of experience in law enforcement. "The average officer has 15 years of experience," said Kelly. "I don't hire rookies. We get people who are mature and can handle people well, because kids know how to push buttons."

After being hired, officers receive specialized training in subjects like gang awareness, defensive tactics, and crisis intervention.

Some officers work with gun detection dogs and have helped to reduce the number of firearms and weapons cases. Officers also often conduct presentations in classrooms, especially with the younger kids. After- school programs are popular.

Kelly told POLICE preparedness is one of the department's greatest concerns. "Ninety-eight percent of the kids are great all the time, so there is a tendency to relax defenses. We need to maintain that level of alertness for the occasional time when something does happen."

Frequent problems with which officers deal are a large number of thefts and fights. Truancy, while also a concern, doesn't deem to be a critical as what the LAUSD describes.

To combat some of these problems, the PBC School District Police Department fields several programs. Kelly described crisis intervention and conflict resolution training for kids, a youth court and the Truancy Interdiction Program, which was recognized in 1996 as one of the best prevention programs by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Officers also work with teachers in some of these areas, providing them with skills and ultimately confidence to deal with student confrontations as they occur.

Said Kelly, "We have good community effort- interagency cooperation and community support. We also have good rapport with the administration. There have been a lot of philosophical differences but they've been resolved. We have a lot of common ground."

Albuquerque School District

The Albuquerque School Police has been in existence since the early '70s. With 120 sites to watch over, the 18 officers, five sergeants, one assistant chief, one chief, and seven dispatchers stay busy. Chief Gil Lovato, who signed on with the department nine years ago said of his officers, "We do more than just show up to monitor criminal activity. We're there to help the kids, talk to them about problems they have at home or about drugs. The officers are there all year long."

"The thing with school police departments, especially this one that's been here for 20 years," said Locato, "is that police officers who are assigned to the schools by a metropolitan police department- they come and go (are reassigned). In the case of a school police officer, they know most of these kids from kindergarten to high school."

Sgt. Julio DelaPena has walked his beat as a school police officer for 24 years. As an officer in this environment, he said his goal is to make kids feel safe. "We want kids to know they can come to a cop for help. We're trained for counseling and mediation, educating, teaching accountability. We're here for the kids to talk things out. We get to know these kids and their families."

In DelaPena's view, the most daunting problems encountered in the schools are truancy, dropout rate, alcohol and drugs, assault and battery.

Sgt. Joe Lopez, an officer with the department since 1989, cited the additional problem of domestic violence.

Said Lopez, "Our jurisdiction is on school grounds exclusively, though we will handle problems that have to do with school buses and things that affect the functioning of school grounds."

Special programs include a truancy court, designed to intervene in such problems, coverage of athletic events and a critical incident management program, in which officers work with staff and teachers to impart skills they can use in a crisis, until police arrive.

Said Lopez, "As an officer, I really like being part of a school community. It's like a little city in miniature. Being a high school detective, you get to know who you can go to for information, who the good guys are, who the bad guys are and that type of thing. To me it's a really satisfying experience."

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