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Kenai school resource officer spends days with kids

Light-hearted authoritative presence

Posted: December 11, 2012 - 11:09pm  |  Updated: December 12, 2012 - 12:40pm
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Kenai police officer Alex Prins listens as Brock Miller reads from a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) book during a lesson at Mountain View Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon. Prins is his department's school resource officer.  Photo by M. Scott Moon
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Kenai police officer Alex Prins listens as Brock Miller reads from a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) book during a lesson at Mountain View Elementary School on Tuesday afternoon. Prins is his department's school resource officer.

The bell rang at 1:24 p.m.

A small group of English honors students chatted while Kenai police officer Alex Prins prepared a digital media presentation. Prins started with a primer on Facebook, a familiar pastime for high school students.

He asked the class about information they’ve given out freely to websites. He asked if anyone read Facebook’s privacy agreement. As for actual privacy of information on the website, “I promise you there is none,” Prins said.

The officer is Kenai’s school resource officer, and he spends his workdays at the city’s schools.

Prins’ duties include proactive educational programs like the digital media presentation as well as reducing crime. The officer said he enjoys working with students and school faculty and administrators said they value the presence of the law enforcement official.

In 2008, Kenai implemented the school resource officer position paid for by the city’s general funds.

Prins keeps an office at Kenai Central High School, but makes weekly trips to the city’s other schools. He regularly visits Kenai Alternative High School, Kenai Middle School, Kaleidoscope Charter School and Mountain View Elementary School. He occasionally visits Aurora Borealis Charter School.

The majority of visits are educational, Prins said. He teaches classes about drugs and alcohol, participates during schools’ intruder drills and allows students to shadow him during career day. He handles law enforcement, as well.

“If there’s something criminal going on, I’m the guy who gets called to the schools,” he said, “but that’s not the typical reason for visits.”

Kenai Central’s Principal Alan Fields, who was instrumental in the implementation of the SRO position, outlined the responsibilities an officer may face daily: protection of students, staff and the public; exchanging information appropriately with students and staff; and handling the initial investigations of on-campus crimes, among other duties.

“The mission of the SRO program is the reduction and prevention of school-related crime and violence,” Fields said in an email.

“Several incidents went more smoothly when we included our (resource officer),” said Sarge Truesdell, Soldotna Middle School’s principal, in an email. “Specifically, any incident that includes drugs and alcohol.”

The officer’s goals include reducing the incidence of school violence and criminal offenses committed by students at school and in the community, but the Kenai Peninsula’s principals agreed that establishing rapport with students through daily interaction is more important.

Walking toward Meredith McCullough’s English class before the presentation, Prins spoke with a handful of students. Some simply shouted greetings at the officer, while Prins talked with one student about how long an injury would prevent him from participating in hockey.

McCullough encouraged participation during the digital media presentation.

Prins highlighted the website Spokeo, which aggregates personal information from White Pages and personal records. First, he used Angelina Jolie as an example. The class examined the movie star’s locations, relationships and net worth, which Prins said was “ridiculous.”

The students weren’t surprised at the availability of information. Prins then chose a John J. Smith, one of 500, living in Florida. He explained that the website contained Smith’s property information and lifestyle choices — political and religious affiliations.

Some students sighed, exasperated.

“How is this legal?” a student asked.

The website’s actions are legal, Prins assured the students. He offered examples of teenagers getting themselves into trouble by offering too much information online.

“I’m not telling you this to scare you. I’m telling you this because it happens,” he said, a statement he reiterated throughout the presentation.

Prins said he’d be willing to teach the digital media presentation to kids’ parents.

The officer performs a balancing act when interacting with high school students, he said. They’re kids, but they’re developing into adults who make their own decisions.

“I try and give them information so they can make good choices while not stepping on the toes of parents who have every right to govern what their kids can and can’t do,” he said.

Students develop a relationship of trust with the officer, said Loren Reese, Kenai Alternative High School principal. Often, students will approach Prins to ask questions about events that took place outside of school, he said.

Soldotna also employs a school resource officer. Soldotna police officer Tobin Brennan spends his mornings at Soldotna High School directing traffic and is a visible figure throughout the school days, said Truesdell.

“Students respond when a police officer tells them something,” Truesdell said. “Their level of engagement and their real-world relevance to what he tells them is heightened.”

The school day’s final bell rang at 2:20 p.m., and Prins monitored the halls as students departed. During school breaks, he answers calls to service and investigates cases like any other officer.

But he’s proud of his work with the schools, he said. Prins worked as a juvenile probation officer in Live Oak, Fla., for 13 years before coming to Alaska. His job consisted of helping troubled teens get back on their feet. Now, he prevents kids from ever getting into trouble.

“One’s not more important than the other, but it’s been a good change for me,” he said. “I helped kids in trouble for so long that I take a great deal of pride in preventing the same from happening as a school resource officer.”

Jerzy Shedlock can be reached at jerzy.shedlock@peninsulaclarion.com.

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