Police presence on campus is not new at Berkeley High School (BHS), but in light of recent school shootings and other safety issues at high schools across the country, administration should be more transparent about the purpose of having a police officer on campus.
According to Sergeant Matt McGee, the assigned BHS School Resource Officer, the purpose of having a police officer on campus is “to be a resource [for students], law enforcement matters, and to keep a safe school community for all students, teachers, and staff members with the overall intention of creating a safe learning environment.” The administration collaborates with the Berkeley Police Department to protect students and promote a safe and productive learning environment. However, for some students, seeing a police officer on campus can be concerning and uncomfortable. Sergeant McGee is aware of this, having been at BHS for five years. He says that if students have questions or concerns, they should come up and talk to him because he is “always willing to have a conversation.”
Sergeant McGee is not unaware of the negative reputations and misconceptions surrounding his job, and has been on the receiving end of many slurs, derogatory comments, and other emotional responses during his time at Berkeley High. “Students used to yell out derogatory things to me all the time, and some still do, but not as much, and I think that is because a lot [of students] have spoken to me and we’ve had a conversation, broken down some barriers,” said McGee.
Recently, it has seemed that Berkeley High has had more than just one police officer on campus. This can lead to an atmosphere of discomfort and confusion among students, which is why it is imperative that the administration is clear about why officers are on campus. According to McGee, when you see additional police officers on campus they are very rarely there for reasons that many students assume, like fights, drug searches, or threats. More likely, officers are on campus to be panelists for classes like Law and Social Justice, or to be mentors and leaders for students seeking guidance.
This year, the Law and Social Justice class has hosted numerous panels centered around police and their work, including panels like ones with the Berkeley homicide unit, special victims unit, property crimes, and women in police work. Students also become concerned because of the recent increase in school shootings. Sometimes, when multiple officers are seen around BHS, people think that the school has received a threat of some sort. However, all of these misconceptions could be resolved if the administration was more clear about the purpose of having additional officers and the Resource Officer on campus.
Due to the recent promotion of Officer McGee to Sergeant, his role as School Resource Officer will be transferred to a new officer, Officer Mitchell. In the coming months, Sergeant McGee will be training and integrating Officer Mitchell into the role.
Sergeant McGee has lots of experience working with youth; before becoming a police officer, he worked for a nonprofit that ran life skills classes in juvenile detention centers. He also has a masters degree in social work, and explained that this shows that “there’s something to a lot of police officers, more than just a uniform.” If the administration was more clear regarding the purpose of having a police presence on campus, it would create a more comfortable and bias-free environment for everyone involved.