GREELEY — School resource officer Steve Brown reached for his Taser to hold off a crowd of high school students. He had one of them pinned against a wall, but he was surrounded.
"Why is he being arrested?" students shouted during the incident last year.
Dozens of Northridge High School students, some of the school's more challenging kids, crowded against the east entrance last fall to smoke cigarettes out of the pouring rain. That brought out school staff, and after a tense week among students, that was enough to turn them into an angry mob. Two nearly got into a fight, and an administrator got in the middle. She was quickly surrounded, and Brown stepped in.
With his Taser trained on the advancing swarm, Brown retreated with the student inside the school.
Backup officers arrived en masse, and that was the end of it. It was an unusual day for Brown, or any school resource officer, but it could have been so much worse, reported The Tribune. There have been 1,764 people killed by police since the start of 2015, including six in the Greeley area by local police in that same time period, according to the Washington Post database. And yet, not one was a student killed at a high school by a school resource officer.
Brown said he didn't even think about pulling his gun — which most school resource officers carry — that day.
There are a number of reasons, actually, according to experts in the school resource officer field, but they all owe credit to one over-arching philosophy: community policing.
NATURE OF THE JOB
Brad Luebke walked into Meeker Elementary School and traded good-natured jabs with school staff in the office before walking out to the playground to check on a loose dog.
Meeker students swarmed over him.
"Hi Officer Brad!"
"Officer Brad, why is that plane flying around?"
"Did you see the dog?"
Their questions and comments were punctuated with hugs, high-fives and more hugs.
The dog's owner had already gotten it back in the yard, Luebke discovered with a contingent of little investigators on his heels.
After eight years as a beat cop, Luebke said he has found his niche.
It's mostly because the kids are much happier to see him than people were when he was a beat cop.
"That's why I love it," Brown said. "Out on the street, almost everything — a lot of what you do is all negative."
When an officer is going call-to-call, it doesn't leave time to get out of the car and play a game of basketball or slap high-fives.
Still, National Association for School Resource Officers President Don Bridges said agencies should make the effort — whether through targeted events like neighborhood nights out or some other way.
"If you're engaged within the community, the paperwork you have is going to be decreased," said Bridges, who works in Baltimore County Schools with 63 other school resource officers. "We were trained (as patrol officers) that it is OK to get out of that police car and engage in the community. It was OK, and it remains OK and it will forever be OK."
Those positive interactions at schools are great for morale, but they're also great for the future, Bridges said.
Bridges said he believes school resource officers have a crucial role to play in developing a positive reputation for police officers, and departments, across the country. If kids learn not to fear police officers in schools, the chances are they may get along with them later when they're adults.
"In cities and towns that struggle, there's a lack of a relationship (between police and residents)," Bridges said. "When you don't have that, other issues surface — mistrust, citizens not having a voice. We as law enforcement could go a long way to turn these mindsets around."
Although police often interact with the same people on a fairly regular basis, a good portion of so-called contacts happen with unknown people in unknown circumstances.
Bridges said that's not the case for school resource officers.
A Greeley school resource officer was contacted by an administrator at Franklin Middle School. A student told school officials about another student with a gun.
Knowing what to expect, the resource officer and administrators approached the 11-year-old student and took the BB gun without incident.
Even if school resource officers don't know all of the details when they approach a situation, there's still some level of familiarity, Brown said.
"Anybody I deal with in the school, I know a little bit about them," Brown said. "So if I don't know about the situation, I know them."
After his hug-filled stop at Meeker, Luebke was called over to Heath Middle School. High school students had been making regular appearances there before school — smoking and occasionally starting fights.
An administrator met Luebke's car in the parking lot. The students were gone, but the administrator gave Luebke a name.
As he left the parking lot, Luebke called another school resource officer, one who had a good relationship with the student in question.
"Hey, can you tell (him) to stop smoking at Heath?" Luebke said.
He doesn't see it as his job to give kids tickets.
"I see myself more as a mentor," Luebke said. "They're going to get punished at school; they're going to get grounded at home."
ALL AVAILABLE OPTIONS
When a patrol officer approaches a tense scene, or makes contact with somebody who is hostile, there are only so many options outside of talking them down, Brown said.
"Out on the street, it's jail, detox or the hospital," Brown said.
At Northridge, or any other school, resource officers have counselors, teachers and principals to help deal with problems.
For Bridges, diffusing situations is easier when there are more ways to diffuse. He starts by taking students away from their audience. Students are less likely to act crazy or disorderly if they're one-on-one with a police officer or administrator, he said.
"They'll do whatever they can do to save face in front of their peers," Bridges said, including getting arrested.
Brown has the same philosophy, and it's mostly achievable in any given interaction. The tense situation last year was not one of those.
None of the people who spoke on the record for this story, including Greeley-Evans School District 6 Director of Safety and Security John Gates, said there is a different standard for police officers pulling their weapons in schools or on the streets. But Bridges spoke often about what he believes his job responsibilities in a school are.
First, he sees himself as an educator. Next, he's a mentor.
No. 3, for Bridges, is law enforcement.
"When a parent drops their kid off, they're entrusting you with their child," Bridges said. "There is nothing more valuable, and that speaks volumes for their trust in us as professionals."
Brown believes it. He's got two teenage daughters, and he uses that in his professional life, much to his colleagues' amusement.
"I'll do their little dance moves," Brown said. "I know the lingo."
His best move?
What about the dab?
"Oh yeah, but that's so old — that was so last year," Brown said, laughing.