SANATOGA PA – It’s back to school, again, for Lower Pottsgrove Police Department Ofc. William “Wil” James.
He’s not returning for an education, although in the past James has quickly acknowledged he sometimes learns more during a few hours at Pottsgrove High School than other visitors do over far longer periods. Instead, he’s returning to serve and protect those being educated.
James is the department’s liaison to the Pottsgrove School District; in official language, its “school resource officer” (SRO). He’s been on the job there, school day-in and -out, for several years, and earlier this month (November 2012), the township Board of Commissioners approved a contract that re-assigned him to his very specific beat.
The district reimburses Lower Pottsgrove quarterly for all costs of having James on-site at the high school and, on occasion, at Ringing Rocks and Lower Pottsgrove elementary schools as well. The contract covers his salary, employee benefits, training and education, insurance and any overtime while on duty. While that duty certainly involves being a police officer – if there’s trouble or danger, James is among those who respond to it – he’s not intended to be a disciplinarian or a security guard.
Instead, commissioners and school directors agree, the SRO’s primary job is to teach by example and presence. His chief task, the contract states, is to “promote among students, within the school setting, a better understanding of federal, state and local laws, as well as the purposes and benefits of those laws.”
Consequently, James spends much of his time talking with kids, his monthly reports indicate. “He’s really had an impact,” Chief Michael Foltz told the township board as it discussed the contract renewal. “Students feel comfortable confiding in him.”
James teaches peer-mediation techniques to help prevent minor incidents from becoming major ones. He’s part of a team that is developing an all-hazards plan to help the district deal with emergencies. He’s on hand for parent-teacher conferences. During the first quarter of 2013, James will collaborate with members of the high school SNAP (Student Needs Assistance Program) Academy to create four hour-long presentations on drug and alcohol awareness for its freshman class.
There are times, of course, when law enforcement trumps “presence.” During October (2012), for example, James reported he arrested one student for theft, and two others for under-age liquor law violations. Those, however, represented only a small percentage of the month’s total incident responses, meditations, and other administrative and student contacts.
When he’s not at one of the schools, James works alongside the rest of the department’s officers.
The now-approved contract runs from Sept. 1, 2012, through Aug. 31, 2013. Foltz hopes it becomes the last single-year agreement commissioners had to sign. The SRO program has been so effective the chief said he is working with township Solicitor R. Kurtz Holloway to create “an open-ended agreement” that persists from year to year.