New School Resource Officer a Familiar Face

Grace Allen
Officer Todd Schwalbe, Wrentham’s new school resource officer.
Issue Date: 
October, 2019
Article Body: 

Students and teachers may see a familiar face patrolling the halls of the Wrentham public schools. Officer Todd Schwalbe, a 23-year veteran of the Wrentham police force and certified D.A.R.E. instructor in town, is the district’s new school resource officer. The police officer will spend time each day in each school, including King Philip Regional High School.
Officer Schwalbe grew up in Wrentham and attended its schools, graduating from KP High School in 1987. After some college and four years in the Coast Guard, he became a police officer. His familiarity with the district will likely be a huge plus in his new role.
And it’s an important role, acknowledged Schwalbe, after the spate of high-profile school shootings in recent years.
“The schools are my priority and my only assignment,” he said. “We are at the point where we need an officer dedicated to this full-time.”
School resource officers are fully sworn law enforcement officers. The school resource officer role focuses on educating students on safety, counseling or mentoring students in need, and enforcing the law, a philosophy known in the SRO field as a “triad.” While the job has no specific training requirements, most officers voluntarily complete a 40-hour course that includes de-escalation techniques and other procedures specific to working in a school setting.
Schwalbe will also assist the school administrations with safety plans, including lockdown drills, fire drills and traffic issues.
The needs of each of the schools, with their different age groups, will further determine his role and approach.
In the elementary grades, housed in the Delaney and Roderick schools, Schwalbe is trying to create a sense of community and make sure the students are comfortable with a police officer in their midst.
“The kids will come up to me and ask why the police are there,” Schwalbe said. “And I’ll say, ‘Guys, I’m just here to make sure you’re safe.’”
In the high school, Schwalbe hopes to build relationships so students trust him enough to approach him with issues.
“We don’t want to stand out there and high-five the kids,” he explained. “They can see right through that. You want to treat them like adults, and hope they come to you when there are incidents like harassment, bullying--the kinds of things that can happen as they get older.”
Schwalbe said the schools have their own discipline procedures in place, and his goal is to support the administrations if necessary. He wants students to see him as an approachable authority figure, but if he learns of or is witness to a serious incident, he cannot ignore it, pointing out he is a mandated reporter.
“If a crime has been committed, I will step in,” he said, noting he is armed and in uniform every day.
The officer says the job is fairly flexible, with few set procedures in place. Some school resource officers prefer to spend time patrolling outside of the building, while others spend most of their time indoors.
“I stay more inside of the building, because God forbid an emergency happens I need to be able to respond quickly,” said Schwalbe.
In the high school, Schwalbe tries to eat lunch with the students, getting to know them and answering their questions about his job. He spent the first few weeks of school helping freshmen find their way to class and at the same time learning his own way around the building, which has been extensively renovated since he was in high school.
He has a desk in the high school, so students know where to find him if he is not patrolling the halls. If he is at one of the elementary schools, he is still reachable and will return to the high school if needed, he said.
“The high school is a great school with a great administration and teachers, but when you put 1,200 teenagers together in a building, you’re going to have issues,” said the officer.
Schwalbe says he volunteered for this assignment because he truly enjoys working with students and knows a lot of the teachers from his time on the D.A.R.E. program. And as a parent himself, he is cognizant of the importance of school safety and the peace of mind parents and students should have in school settings.
“You hear of so many bad things that you never want to happen in your own school,” he said. “As a parent, I like the idea of a police officer in the building. I believe 100% in school safety. I think we’re going to see more and more school resource officers. We really need them now.”