Students at Grant Union Junior-Senior High School may have wondered what was up when they saw a police officer greeting them on the first day of school.
But within a few weeks’ time, they grew accustomed to the smiling face of John Day Police Chief Mike Durr, Grant Union’s new school resource officer.
“At first, the kids all looked the other way when I passed them,” he said. “But they got used to me pretty quickly.”
Durr stands out in full uniform, from handgun and Taser to radio and body camera. But he’s there to initiate a bond between students and law enforcement that’s meant to last long into adulthood.
Freshman Billy Radinovich, whose mother once worked as a corrections deputy for the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, gave Durr a hug in the hallway as another school day ended.
Radinovich, who’s known Durr for years, said students at Grant Union initially viewed him with suspicion but soon were used to him being around.
“They’d never seen a cop in here before,” she said.
The school resource officer position partly grew out of recent public discussion over arming teachers, Grant School District 3 Board Chairwoman Chris Cronin said. Former school superintendent Curt Shelley initiated the SRO process, she said.
“We heard unanimously during that discussion that a school resource officer was a positive move,” she said.
The school district had an SRO program in the past. Learning John Day could benefit by partnering with the school district to share the cost made a lot of sense, Cronin said. The board approved implementation of the program by consensus, she said.
The SRO currently is operating under a memorandum of understanding as details of the contract continue to be worked out, Grant School District Superintendent Bret Uptmor said. He said he had an initial meeting with Durr and discussed general ideas about how the program would operate. The program will be reviewed sometime in the future, he noted.
As set up now, the SRO will be at the junior-senior high school at the start of school in the morning, at lunch and at the close of the school day. At least one officer will be present at home sporting events, Uptmor said.
The SRO contract does not cover Humbolt Elementary School because it’s in Canyon City and outside of the John Day Police Department jurisdiction, Uptmor said. That doesn’t stop the SRO from giving presentations at Humbolt or responding to emergencies as mutual aid, he noted.
Uptmor recalled the success of the SRO program in Ontario when he worked there from 1991 to 2011. During that time, four different officers held the position. An SRO’s role is not to supervise over student “shenanigans,” he noted.
“School staff are responsible for monitoring that kind of activity,” he said.
The SRO’s presence will add a level of confidence by students and staff that the school is safe, Uptmor said. The officer will also be present to deal with any illegal activity.
Uptmor said he believes high-profile school shootings elsewhere in the country have an impact on students. Adolescents tend to have sheltered lives and can be frightened by these national events.
It’s part of the growing up process, he said, and as a school leader he needs to portray a level of confidence. Students need to know that the kids responsible for school shootings are not like them, and that the school will protect them.
But the role of the SRO is more than stopping an active shooter. Thinking back to the early implementation of SROs, Uptmor recalled that one of the goals was to break down the “us versus them” divide, to get students comfortable around law enforcement and to understand that police officers are real people with real social qualities.
“They need to know that when they need a police officer, they will come and help,” Uptmor said.
An SRO can also inspect school facilities and make recommendations to improve security. The Grant School District board in August added providing safe and secure schools to their list of priorities, Uptmor said.