Staff photo by Allison Potter
Corporal E. Granda, School Resource Officer at New Hanover High School, cites the location and sprawling layout of the school as two of the challenges in keeping the campus safe.
Corporal E. Granda said he found his niche working as a School Resource Officer at New Hanover High School.
Law enforcement officers assigned to public schools are in the forefront of public discussion. The Center for the Prevention of School Violence’s research-derived definition of an SRO is, “a certified law enforcement officer who is permanently assigned to provide coverage to a school or a set of schools. The SRO is specifically trained to perform three roles: law enforcement officer; law-related counselor; and law-related education teacher. The SRO is not necessarily a DARE officer (although many have received such training), security guard, or officer who has been placed temporarily in a school in response to a crisis situation but, rather, acts as a comprehensive resource for his/her school.”
Granda told of his experience as an SRO best with a story about a former student whom he mentored.
“When I first met him, he was heavily involved with gangs,” said Granda, who has been employed by the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office for 13 years.
The student was Hispanic and his family was in the United States illegally, but he wanted to go through the system so he could either get involved with the Sheriff’s Office or the United States Naval Academy after graduation.
“He had a lot of anger built up,” Granda said. “I sort of took him under my wing.”
He talked with the student and his parents, letting them know they were not fighting a losing battle with their child.
Tearing up, Granda said the student not only graduated but came back to visit him on Tuesday, Jan. 15, to let him know he was accepted into the Naval Academy. The student said he would also be paying for Granda to come visit and speak to his peers about the importance of SROs and how Granda changed his life in high school.
“The student pulled himself out,” Granda said.
The story is the reason Granda has spent nearly five years of service as an SRO at New Hanover. He is currently training deputy J.C. Davis, who recently began serving as an SRO at New Hanover. Davis formerly transported inmates to the New Hanover County Courthouse, but wanted to lend his time to helping students since he was personally influenced by his SRO when he attended Eugene Ashley High School.
“Each SRO officer, they make a connection with the students in their own way,” Granda said.
Three officers are typically stationed at New Hanover, including Granda, Davis and a school liaison officer from the Wilmington Police Department.
The open door policy the SROs have with the students helps them see the officers as a recognizable resource for help and guidance, instead of just another uniformed law enforcer.
Before becoming an SRO, Granda spent two weeks in Salemburg, N.C., training in juvenile law, and search and seizure of juveniles. Each year, training is updated with refresher courses like general statute updates. Last year, Granda completed advance SRO training.
New Hanover High is surrounded by four intersections and alleyways known for inner-city drug activity and violence, Granda said, listing off the names of the streets.
On a day-to-day basis, the SROs meet in the morning to make rounds, double-check to see all students are in class, make contact with staff members, help move students in large groups, watch assemblies and address concerns with certain students. Every now and then, the SROs also speak to classes, like drivers education classes about driving under the influence charges or to history classes about the civil process.
“We wear many hats,” Granda said. “We’re role models. We’re mentors. We’re counselors. We’re law enforcement officers. At times, we’re friends. Sometimes we’re even parents or lifelike parents to students who don’t have anybody at home.”
If he had to tell the public anything, Granda said he knows how important the safety of children is to parents in the community.
During the summer, about 30 cameras were installed inside and outside of New Hanover High to help monitor students and other people on campus.
“We’re trying our hardest to ensure that safety,” Granda said, adding that they are using the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy as a tool to implement an effective local safety plan for all schools. “... At times, even the unexpected can happen. When you’ve got a guy who breaks into a window, staff is not ready for that. I mean they’re ready for the doors to be locked, the visitor passes, the visitor process to go through. Just like a bomber, if he wants to bomb it, he’s going to bomb something. You’ve just got to be able to respond.”