Beth Sanborn is a Detective, Juvenile Officer, and School Resource Officer in Pennsylvania with the Lower Gwynedd Township, PA Police.
A law enforcement officer for nearly 25 years, she is active in the Penn. Association of School Resource Officers and the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Dr. Sanborn enthusiastically and affirmatively supports the inclusion of SROs in American schools. Having earned a doctorate from West Chester University, she has conducted research in the area of School Resource Officers.
[00:00:02.580] - Intro
Welcome to The CopDoc Podcast. This podcast explores police leadership issues and innovative ideas, the cop dog shares thoughts and ideas as he talks with leaders in policing, communities, academia and other government agencies. And now please join Dr. Steve Morreale and industry thought leaders as they share their insights and experience on The CopDoc Podcast.
[00:00:31.950] - Steve Morreale
Well, welcome back, everybody. Steve Morreale from Boston. You're listening to The CopDoc Podcast today. Have the opportunity to talk to someone outside of Philadelphia from a police department. Her name is Doctor Officer Detective Beth Sandborn. So, tell us where you are and how the hell hot it is, because it's damn hot here.
[00:00:50.220] - Beth Sanborn
Yeah, I'm sitting here in the air conditioning, living out of the gorgeous sun outside with I don't plan on leaving the air conditioning. So I'm in Montgomery County, which is 10 miles north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and summertime here. So I'm enjoying my time away from school, away from my assignment. I'm on vacation for work, which means I'm spending my time with you.
[00:01:09.000] - Steve Morreale
That's great. Thank you. How long you been doing this?
[00:01:11.640] - Beth Sanborn
I'm coming up on finishing my twenty-fourth year in policing. So August I start year twenty-five, which means I can see the light at the end of my tunnel. I still have another four years to go. And while I'm not suggesting that I'm counting down the days, that light seems kind of far off in the distance. But I know it's simply approaching.
[00:01:28.890] - Steve Morreale
So what drew you to policing in the first place?
[00:01:31.090] - Beth Sanborn
Yeah, I don't have a great answer for that. Here's the thing. Here's what happened. Here was my story. I'm in high school. I'm a competitive athlete. I was recruited for my undergraduate to play volleyball and to swim. I wound up going to Walden University and I went in undecided. And while I was at Walden University, I took a sociology class and I was one of those front row center kind of students. And I just fell in love with the sociology and criminology professor in an appropriate kind of way.
[00:02:02.880] - Beth Sanborn
I love studying people and learning about why people do what they do and how to gauge behaviors and how to just people watch. But professionally and I realized that I love the field of sociology and criminal justice. So I started taking some classes and it just really struck me as a chord. It was my passion. I wound up graduating early and I put myself through the police academy. And when I figured that I really wanted to help people, I've got a good heart, a good mind.
[00:02:30.330] - Beth Sanborn
And I wanted to be that hero. I wanted to be the one that made someone's day better because they encountered me. And that was how I found the field of policing. Now, fast forward a little bit, and I realized that policing isn't necessarily about making someone's day better because they encountered you. And I realized that there's a lot of bureaucracy, there's a lot of red tape, and there's a lot of responding to people's complaints because the neighbor put the trash can out too early and it violates the township ordinance.
[00:02:55.260] - Beth Sanborn
And I assumed a few different roles in my career as policing. I was a field training officer. I really like teaching the right way to do things. I was an officer in charge, which meant I was tasked with the responsibilities of the squad. I'm now our juvenile detective. I'm a school resource officer. It wasn't until I assumed the role of school resource officer that I truly found my passion. It got me back to that helping people because I got the opportunity with every kid that I interacted with, every family that I worked with, I was able to help make their day better just by being there and by encountering them and by building positive relationships.
[00:03:30.270] - Beth Sanborn
I'm kind of jumping ahead a little bit, but that's where I found my nation. That was with working with juveniles and being in a school, not jumping ahead at all. I want to let the audience know a couple of things. What's been happening since I started the podcast is I'm beginning to get feedback from those who are listening. And I'm very lucky and honored that people are listening from all over the world, literally from all over the world today.
[00:03:50.700] - Steve Morreale
I heard from somebody in Ireland earlier today. I heard from a chief here in Massachusetts who happened to have been a guest on the show. And he had heard one of the episodes and came at me and said, hey, you guys talked about this. Can you connect me with so-and-so about taking a look at my organization? I was very happy to do that. And ironically, best, that's the reason that we came in contact. And that's where I'm going with that, because you reached out and said, hey, I'm a school resource officer doing some research and would you have an interest?
[00:04:18.930] - Steve Morreale
And I gave you a call. And we do have an interest because the whole idea of school resource officers before that day, our officers, it is a in my mind, a great opportunity for police department to put the right person in that school with those schools, with the students, to be able to make many friends and make a difference in people's lives. It's the basis of community policing. And so it strikes me when I hear these things that people are the politicians are saying we need to get school resource officers out of the schools.
[00:04:48.150] - Steve Morreale
It boggles my mind because I think it's the antithesis of what we should be doing. It's absolutely opposite. What's your take on that when you hear that as a devoted SRO with the students who look up to you, who come to you, how does that make you feel better.
[00:05:03.590] - Beth Sanborn
As you started to talk? I wish you could see the giant smile on my face because you hit the nail on the head with putting the right person into the position. School resource officers, we're not your typical cops.
[00:05:14.810] - Beth Sanborn
We're not that cop standing out there that an intersection with the mirrored sunglasses and the closed body language with the arms folded and hands on the taser and gun with a challenging posture. We are very specially chosen and very specifically trained to work with kids, which means some of the things that we're taught and we're educated on and that we then educate on is about the teen brain and about development and why kids do what they do and what's happening within their bodies and why they're acting the way they're acting.
[00:05:43.010] - Beth Sanborn
We get a tremendous amount of training because policing in a school is an entirely different picture than policing out on the street. School resource officers are not in schools to criminalize juvenile misbehaviors. OK, let me ask you a question. Is stealing a pack of Oreos from your local grocery store a crime? That should be a pretty simple answer for? Yes, of course it is. I'd like to say I'm hoping that there's some nods out in the audience.
[00:06:07.320] - Beth Sanborn
You care to take a guess how many times kids are stealing a pack of cookies from the cafeteria? Happening multiple times a day every day. Our school resource officers arresting kids for stealing cookies from the cafeteria. No, of course we're not. And the reason being is that we're trained to look at the why behind the behavior. So let's come up with a couple of reasons why a kid might steal a pack of cookies from the cafeteria. Maybe he's hungry.
[00:06:31.700] - Beth Sanborn
Maybe he doesn't have money as long to count. Maybe he's impressing a girl. Maybe he's impressing a boy. Maybe it's a girl who wants to give them to a boy. There are so many reasons behind it. And yet, while that behavior is a crime, we are not criminalizing that behavior. We have school resource officers have the luxury of time, and that's something that your traditional patrol officer doesn't necessarily get. So what I mean by that is when a patrol officer gets called to a 911 call or the fact that the convenience store, the grocery store, because someone committed a theft, they respond appropriately in a school because we're there for 180 days interacting with the same kids.
[00:07:08.600] - Beth Sanborn
Every day we get the luxury of saying, I'm going to see that kid again tomorrow. And there's a really good likelihood that I saw him yesterday. So we may know some of that other behavior that's happening behind the scenes. We might know that perhaps mom just got laid off. We might know that perhaps there's a domestic situation happening behind the scenes that the kid doesn't have lunch money. So we can work with that kid every day to help guide and mentor and counsel to help that can achieve their version of success instead of criminalizing simple behavior.
[00:07:40.370] - Beth Sanborn
That's not what we do.
[00:07:41.540] - Steve Morreale
So let me ask you this. This strikes me always. And when I myself was training DARE officers many years ago, it struck me that to have a police officer walk into a school at first is really foreign, is really resisted. People don't understand what your point of view is or what your intent is as a police officer. Yes, you have authority and in extreme circumstances, you can be called on to exercise your police authority, use your handcuffs.
[00:08:08.360] - Steve Morreale
But that's in the very unusual weapon. But that's in the very rare circumstances. Am I correct?
[00:08:13.160] - Beth Sanborn
[00:08:13.850] - Steve Morreale
Let me continue with my thought for a moment. So when you or some of your colleagues, because I know you belong to an association of school resource officers, I want to talk about that. But so there's plenty out there and there's plenty of similarities. But when you walk into a school with teachers, is there resistance at first?
[00:08:30.440] - Beth Sanborn
[00:08:31.430] - Steve Morreale
OK, so now think about this. And I know you've experienced it, but this is what I try to tell people too. So, I think through your stories rather than my stories, this will become more evident and apparent. You walk in. Where do you meet teachers? You meet them in the classroom, certainly, and meet them in the faculty lounge. Right. So here you are as a police officer, you have to earn their trust and respect first.
[00:08:52.490] - Steve Morreale
And what I say to others, you would rarely allow anybody into the squad room or the locker room in a police department, anyone who was not a police officer. So you have to break down those barriers. Talk about that. I'm watching your facial expression. I know that we're doing this only in audio, but I have that benefit. So talk about that.
[00:09:10.680] - Beth Sanborn
You hit on so many different things that you're just this is my passion. So, yeah, listen, I started in the school year in January. That's midway through a school year. Everyone in that school was comfortable with each other and they had never had a uniformed police officer assigned to that school. Before I walk in January 5th, 2015. And I walk into the cafeteria at the high school. And that brought me right back to my own high school experience and my own vulnerabilities, my own insecurity. And I'm telling you, the needle stopped across that cafeteria and the silence was only shattered when someone threw a goldfish cracker at me.
[00:09:44.270] - Beth Sanborn
I mean, I can laugh at it now, but oh, my goodness. Like, we're both looking at each other like they're looking at me saying, what is she doing here? And I'm looking at them going, what am I doing here?
[00:09:52.670] - Steve Morreale
And who the hell, and who the hell just threw that cracker? At first, yeah.
[00:09:58.000] - Beth Sanborn
I mean, this is what we have to contend with. So I was nervous as all get out in front of three hundred high school kids and teachers and everybody's looking at me like I have two hands and I'm checking my zippers and my nose and making sure I don't know what to do with my hands and suddenly I can't breathe. So it takes time. I was called a narc and I was like, no, I'm actually a real police officer.
[00:10:19.280] - Beth Sanborn
This is real. I'm in a full uniform. I have a full gun belt. I've got a vest and boots. So it took a tremendous amount of time. Now, here's the way I was able to explain it to people, because I will tell you that in my school district, there was very little need for me to act as a uniformed police officer in my official law enforcement capacity, which means I'm rarely arresting kids. I don't know that I've ever pulled my handcuffs out in the school, but I have the opportunity to do a tremendous number of other things, which means that I can talk and I can mentor and I can counsel and I can get to know people and I can start to build those relationships and lay the foundation for a long term relationship.
[00:10:57.330] - Beth Sanborn
But yeah, it took a long time for the teachers to trust me. Oh, and guess who else it took a while to to earn the trust of the parents who now know that there is a gun walking around the hallways where their children are. So what does that mean? That meant that I had to devote a lot of my time outside of my normal traditional work hours so that I could meet parents. Well, where do you get to do that when you got to do that?
[00:11:19.610] - Beth Sanborn
And extracurricular activities. So you go to football game, you go to a basketball game, you go to wrestling matches and art shows and choral events and the play and you stand outside in your uniform and you smile and you greet them and you greet these parents, children by name and you congratulate them and say, you should be so proud. Your daughter's doing so well this year. You know, I saw her holding the door open for someone else and then helping to pick up books.
[00:11:45.320] - Beth Sanborn
And they appreciate that because, you know, their child, you get to see the other side of that child that that child doesn't show at home. Right. Because we all act a little differently when we're in different environments. And I get the luxury of seeing their child interact with their peers as opposed to just simply the way that they act at home with their parents.
[00:12:03.860] - Steve Morreale
You know, you just said something and I wrote down, you beat me to the punches. I've beaten you to the punch because I think we're in kinship here. Relationship and relationship building is so important and breaking down, as I said, the barriers. And so, you know, everything that's going on, you're in a smaller township police department, but you've faced all colleagues have faced all kinds of horrible thing from death to suicide to rapes and sexual assaults and all the things that you deal with.
[00:12:31.310] - Steve Morreale
Is it not part of your responsibility to engage other helping fields to identify a student in need of services and almost create a safety network?
[00:12:42.080] - Beth Sanborn
Oh, my gosh, boy, this is a great kinship here. Yes. Here's something that and I'll jump ahead a little bit to my research and we can come back. One of the really unique things about school resource officers is that we are when I said that we're in a breed of cop, we can talk to people and we have good relationship building skills and we're not afraid to put ourselves out there, which means that we have those contacts and those connections.
[00:13:05.930] - Beth Sanborn
So when you bring a police officer into a school, we're a new set of eyes and ears. We're able to look at a problem but apply a different set of interventions. I also bring with me that twenty-four years of policing, all of those years on the street don't disappear just because I crossed the threshold into a school, which means I have contacts with juvenile probation, with social services agencies, with the Office of Children and Youth, with aging and adult services, with religious leaders, with community leaders, with the informal leaders that are in our areas who can help provide things.
[00:13:36.620] - Beth Sanborn
I had a mom call me on my cell phone because, by the way, one of the things that I offer to my kids and my families and my community is my cell phone. They all have my cell phone number. And I have a mom reach out to me and say, Officer Beth, I need three beds or two beds. I said, beds, beds. Yeah, beds. You know, you're following me, right? This is Officer Beth Sanborn.
[00:13:57.500] - Beth Sanborn
Yeah, I need two beds. Can you get them for me? Well, I took that as a challenge. I wound up finding two beds and two mattresses and sets of sheets and bedding. And because police officers know how to get stuff, what do they do to to fulfill these needs for our community? Because, listen, it sounds super cheesy. And I sometimes I go back to it, but we got into this profession to help people.
[00:14:18.230] - Beth Sanborn
Now, I'm super fortunate in that I feel like I can achieve that goal every day. But when you can fulfill a need that a family has because they're not asking for a luxurious vacation, she needs beds for her kids. We can fulfill that. So I had the contacts to be able to make that a reality for them. And I don't suggest that that didn't make it to Facebook. It's not on social media. It's not all over the place.
[00:14:38.600] - Beth Sanborn
It's the reality that police officers genuinely care. And when you bring a specific police officer into a school, it's not just that. It's not just the guy who pulled the short straw that day. We're chosen because we want our communities to succeed, because we want the kids who are then going to be the future leaders in our area to be successful. We want healthy and safe and. Violence in communities and the way to do that is to help our kids achieve versions of success so that they themselves can be successful and get jobs, learn trades, not commit crimes, get married, have relationships, have children, and then continue to continue on.
[00:15:15.110] - Steve Morreale
So at some point in time, you took the time to say, I don't have enough, I want more. I'd like to go back to school. And you sought your doctorate. So for those who are listening midway, by the way, we're talking to Beth Sanborn, Detective Beth Sanborn from the Lower Gwynedd Police Department, which is in Pennsylvania now. Dr. Sanborn, so what made you do that? What made you as busy as you might be with family, go back and seek a doctorate?
[00:15:41.510] - Beth Sanborn
Well, I'm a go getter. I'm not unusual in that respect. But in policing, when I started in nineteen ninety seven, there weren't all that many female officers around. So I had to do something that made myself stand out and that was back then. I maintain that same mentality and I've always been a huge proponent of education. I think it's meaningful. It's something that you can do that no one can ever take away from you. And there are trends in policing as they evolve over time and policing has been professionalized and our gear has gotten better and our training has gotten better and everything around us has gotten better.
[00:16:13.550] - Beth Sanborn
And I was not content with just sitting still and just being stagnant. I wanted to be better. And I went back to St. Joe's University in Philadelphia and I got my master's degree in criminal justice. And then shortly thereafter, then I became a school resource officer and I was in schools and I saw the work that we did. And I joined the National Association of School Resource Officers. And I realized that while I thought that I was unique, I realized there a whole lot more of me out there.
[00:16:38.480] - Beth Sanborn
I thought I was a unicorn. I'm not a unicorn. NASRA, the National Association of School Resource Officers, those are my unicorns. And we're like 20 thousand strong. And I realize that as much as I put my heart and soul into my work and getting my kids to succeed, there's 20,000 others out there that are doing the same thing. And it filled me with such pride. But I still write. I still research, I still present.
[00:16:59.000] - Beth Sanborn
I go to conferences. And every so often I would hear research about how school resource officers criminalize kids or that there's a distressing number of disorderly conduct citations that are issued or that where that we contribute to exclusionary discipline and that we're the reason that the school to prison pipeline exists. And I said not that. Wait a second, second. No, that's not what we do. And the reason why I know that that's not what we do is because that's not what I do.
[00:17:22.880] - Beth Sanborn
And I'm living it every single day. And I said, I am not going to sit idly by and let someone suggest that I am a detriment to their kid. It's just not going to happen. And I said, this just can't be. And I decided that I wanted to go back because I wanted to be our voice. I wanted to advocate for us to say, no, you may have whatever perceptions you believe about policing, but that's not who school resource officers are.
[00:17:47.120] - Beth Sanborn
Our children are our most precious possessions. We all want them to succeed. There is not a school resource officer out there. And I challenge you to even suggest a police officer out there who wants anything bad to happen to any kid ever. I have arrested kids. I don't take joy in it. It is not my first go to response. And I can promise you that there have been plenty of other interventions that have been tried prior to that arrest.
[00:18:11.000] - Beth Sanborn
And I said, I'm not going to sit by and let someone suggest that I am a threat or a harm to their child. And that was what led me to go back to my doctor because I wanted to provide some solid research, solid data. I wanted access to school resource officers. The show, this is what we're doing, the frequency with which we're doing it. My dissertation was entitled Pennsylvania School Resource Officers as mentor counselors, including levels of Intervention.
[00:18:35.480] - Beth Sanborn
And I focus specifically on Pennsylvania. And I was thrilled with the responses. Now, let's jump ahead a little bit during the pandemic, when we were all kind of trying to figure out what our world was going to look like and what we could do, and I decided that I wasn't content to just sit still in case you haven't noticed that about me. And I took that similar survey that's similar research project. And I said, you know what, I'm going to blow this up and I'm going to take it nationwide.
[00:18:58.880] - Beth Sanborn
And I did with my research team, and we sent it out all across the country. I got seventeen hundred school resource officers, over seventeen hundred school resource officers to sit down and take time. Time out just for one second. Have you ever gone to the mall and someone has approached you and said, would you like to take a survey and you either pretend that you don't hear them or you put your head down or you say not now, I don't have the time for it.
[00:19:21.440] - Beth Sanborn
I've been warned of that survey was going to take you two or three minutes and you were going to taste cool whip or something and get to the survey that I developed, took a solid fifteen minutes of truly thinking and becoming introspective and really looking at what we do, how we make our decisions and how we made these considerations. Fifteen minutes of think time. I'm not just talking checkboxes for gender and for ethnicity. OK, seventeen hundred responses. Yep.
[00:19:50.660] - Beth Sanborn
Was that again, I am not the unicorn that we are out there working our tails off to make sure that our kids succeed. And the most telling part of that entire research is that we. Very, very, very few exceptions, do you know what school resource officers responses were to crimes and misbehaviors of differing levels? We turned it over to the school so that the school could handle it with all discipline. Listen, if we throw our hands up and said I'm not going to have to act as a police officer with any of the tools that are on my tool belt, we we're thrilled to death.
[00:20:20.320] - Beth Sanborn
This is a learning environment. We are here to enhance learning, which is one of the three primary prongs of our position is that we serve as a law related educator. And part of that is just learning behavior, learning to deal with conflicts. We're trying to help people be better human beings.
[00:20:36.790] - Steve Morreale
Well, you know, one thing that police officers have the ability to do, especially when they have an audience with students, this happens at the university. There are so many people that we interact with that have no trouble understanding of what a police officer is, does or what the limitations or what the authority is. And so as much as anything part of what you're doing, in my estimation, when you're talking to parents, so you're talking to students and you're talking to staff or faculty, is helping people understand policing and help them become better consumers of police services at a fair state.
[00:21:08.800] - Beth Sanborn
Absolutely. Now, I can't promise you that everyone in my community knows my husband's name or my children's names or my dog's name. But I can tell you that most of them know that I'm married to a police officer in a local neighboring jurisdiction. They probably remember that I have two kids that are a high school age and they know that I have a dog and that my dog is a pain in the butt. I humanize the badge and I let these kids know that I'm a real person.
[00:21:32.020] - Beth Sanborn
And when I'm not wearing this monkey suit that they see me and every day go home and I'm a mom and I go to the grocery store and I get frustrated sitting in traffic. And then I tend to eat too many sweets at night while I'm watching TV. I'm a real person. So here's the benefit of that. When I get to see your kid every day for one hundred and eighty days, I get to know who their friends are, who their frenemies are that day, because yesterday they were friends, but today they don't like each other.
[00:21:55.180] - Beth Sanborn
Who's dating who, who hangs out where, what their passions are, what they're afraid of. I get to learn a lot of that information as well as things like who might need a little extra help and support, who doesn't have somebody at home to say, I'm proud of you. Great job. Keep up the good work and make smart decisions. And I'll give you an example of that. It was probably two or three weeks ago. The reason why I say two or three weeks ago is because I finally recovered from my sleep schedule.
[00:22:19.660] - Beth Sanborn
I got called in by patrol around 10 30 at night because we had a juvenile on juvenile domestic and they figured that I might know these kids. And lo and behold, I did know these kids and I was able to give a not only background information and demographic information, as well as caregivers and some household information about the kids. I said, listen, he's not going to talk to you. He's got oppositional defiance disorder and he's going to shut down.
[00:22:45.010] - Beth Sanborn
He is not going to talk to you, but prep Miranda. I'll come in. We'll do a Q&A. We'll talk to the kid. Long story short, I jump ahead. I come in, I throw some clothes on and I respond in to work. I don't put a uniform on and just a button-down shirt and some yoga pants, super professional. And I come out to the scene and they said, yeah, he's not here. So I talked with I talk with patrol for a couple of minutes.
[00:23:07.810] - Beth Sanborn
I wound up getting in touch with the girl. And lo and behold, after I talked to her for a few minutes, they both come walking right over to me. They've been hiding out and he walks right up to me. I say, hey, guys, I said, this is what I look like. I'm not my uniform. I said, because my hair would be up in a ponytail. I was able to talk to them. I was able to find out the whole story beginning to end.
[00:23:26.890] - Beth Sanborn
By the way, it turns out, total misunderstanding. What I can promise you that that boy would not have talked to my partner because he was intimidating. He didn't know he was the cop who stands there with the mirrored sunglasses, with his hands folded across his chest. And in this closed body language, we never would have been able to come to a successful outcome without that prior relationship. Because, by the way, based on the information that we had received, he could have been arrested.
[00:23:53.020] - Beth Sanborn
Now, not for nothing, but if he doesn't want to talk to the cop and he can't provide his side of the story, he's going it. Yes, for it. Yeah, the handcuffs are coming out. But he walked right up to me. And because I've known him for years, because I know his older brother, because I know his grandmother, because I know his living situation and because I interact with him every day. Funny story.
[00:24:12.040] - Beth Sanborn
He brought a snake into my office one day because he was proud to show it off. I was like, get it out of my office now. Yes, but he and I can talk to each other and we cleared it up very quickly. And guess what? We avoided an arrest scheduled to get back to normal. But it's worth it.
[00:24:30.820] - Steve Morreale
It is worth it. What you're talking about as a school resource officer is similar to - if done right, what community policing is. That you get to know the community that you are policing, not just driving by, not just going from call to call, but getting out of the car, shaking hands, standing on the corner, getting to know people, getting to earn some trust so that they can tell you what's on their mind, what the problems are, rather than we ain't talking to you because you're a cop.
[00:24:56.110] - Beth Sanborn
Absolutely. And listen, we have to remember what the motivation is. To listen, I love hearing positive police stories, but I cringe a little bit when I see them on the 15 seconds of fame, on Facebook and on Snapchat and on Twitter. That's not what it's about. OK, I'm not taking a picture, bending down, giving someone a pair of shoes. The amount of money that school resource officers spend in any given school year is staggering.
[00:25:19.320] - Beth Sanborn
That doesn't make the news. Preventing a fight doesn't make the news. Building a relationship with a kid who graduates and says, you know what? I've had some bad experiences with cops in my life that doesn't make the news. But then when you respond with and say, hey, listen, there's a whole lot more cops out there like me, that's what we do that builds those relationships long term. When these kids graduate, they remember those experiences.
[00:25:42.390] - Speaker 3
They remember who made them feel good and who made them feel like they were supported and loved and cared for. That doesn't go away.
[00:25:49.020] - Steve Morreale
So you hold an office, you have an office in the school building. Talk about that. So what happens? Are you attending meetings with the principal, with the counseling service? What kind of relationships? You know, there's different players in the school, coaches. How do you engage with all of those layers and players?
[00:26:05.700] - Beth Sanborn
So, yes, I have an office inside the high school. I have a somewhat unique campus and that one of my elementary schools is on the same campus as the middle school is as the high school. My office is in the high school because, well, bigger and bigger problems. But what I suggest to you, though, is that my office does not look like a traditional police station or what you would think a police officer's office might be. It's been described as very light.
[00:26:30.240] - Speaker 3
I must have at least a dozen potted plants and crystals and salt lamps and the best fidgets that money can buy some of the most unique and unusual toys. Because through those relationships, I want students to know that if they're in crisis or if they're struggling or if they're upset or just escalated or agitated, that they can come to me. I am not a disciplinarian. I don't care if you're eating lunch outside of the lunchroom. The reason why I care if you're eating your lunch on the bathroom floor by yourself is that that tells me that you don't have a friend group or you don't have a support system.
[00:27:05.340] - Beth Sanborn
I care about that, not because you're going to get in trouble, but because I need to find you some people to connect with. It's going to start with me. And you're going to eat your lunch in my office for a while, and we're going to get to know each other. And I'm going to find out your passion and then I'm going to connect you with other people. I am a member of the school team, which means I had to learn the school language.
[00:27:23.790] - Beth Sanborn
Cops and teachers speak very differently with very different senses of humor, and we have very different acronyms. In order to be that community, I had to learn that guidance counselors could trust me and that school psychologists had way more training than I did. I'm a bandaid. They're more longer term solutions, problem solvers. But then we were working together. I work with principals and I meet with them almost daily. The reason being is that they get a picture of a kid from seven a.m. until three p.m. I'm aware of that kid.
[00:27:52.470] - Beth Sanborn
Well, what happens with their family from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 a.m.? And I can fill that gap. So I work with guidance counselors. The school resource officer is not a lone wolf that walks through these hallways and makes decisions independently of the school environment. We are a part of that environment, which means that when we notice behaviors. Remember what I told you as far as interventions with with crimes and misbehaviors, that we refer things back to the school administrators for them to deal with.
[00:28:19.860] - Beth Sanborn
Remember, I suggested that early on when we have these things, we turn them over to the school because the principal can't be everywhere. I have a kid years ago hysterical. He's standing in one of the major intersections of the school and had a giant wad of cash. And I looked over him on like, Huh? He's like, no, no, no, it's OK. It's OK. It's OK. We're just gambling. And I'm like, OK, so what is guidance counselor?
[00:28:47.190] - Beth Sanborn
No, what does administrator know? OK, listen, like we may want to address proper behaviors here, you know, is it a crime? Yeah, I'm sure I can find gambling and running numbers and somewhere in the Pennsylvania crimes code, but I'm not out there proactively policing my kids. So long story short, kid went to Penn State, got a business degree. He's doing very well for himself.
[00:29:06.630] - Steve Morreale
I gotcha. So in the interest of time, believe it or not, these conversations just fly by. And I'm very grateful for that. But let's talk about your reaction. When you hear politicians saying we need to remove school resource officers from the schools, what's your reaction and what do you say? I know you certainly have convinced me of the value of having an SRO, the right person in the right seat. But what do you do? What does your national association do to sort of fight back and push back?
[00:29:38.550] - Beth Sanborn
Well, we have an incredibly strong leadership team and we trust in our members. We trust in our leadership team. And that does tremendous job. But the onus falls on us, the members, to get out into our communities, to talk to our families, to talk to our parents, our teachers, our school administrators, our kids. Just a quick question. And I won't derail us too far, I promise, if you have a toothache, are you going to see a podiatrist?
[00:30:06.570] - Steve Morreale
[00:30:06.990] - Beth Sanborn
Of course not. You're going to see a dentist. Just because they're both doctors, it doesn't mean they do the same job. I am a school resource officer. I am specially chosen and specifically trained to work in a school environment to police in a school. So what concerns me is when I hear politicians and special interest groups and when I hear about people that desperately want to remove cops from school because cops are the big bad monsters, you're not talking about the same people ask your kids because the kids are our primary service recipients every day.
[00:30:37.980] - Beth Sanborn
They're the ones that see the smiles on our faces that know all about the candy that we give out. Didn't know about the granola bars that we're handing out and the fruit snacks and the money that we're putting in their lunch accounts when we and the extracurricular activities that we're coaching and the dresses that we get for people at proms and the toiletries stores that we're running in schools, because there are kids out there that don't have deodorant and toothpaste and who don't get their clothes washed.
[00:31:01.560] - Speaker 3
Those stories don't make the news. They're not sexy. They're not exciting. School resource officers are not the cops that you're seeing on television doing bad things. We're the ones that are behind the scenes just trying to make kids days better.
[00:31:14.610] - Steve Morreale
You know, it seems to me that you have found your passion without question, that you have found your place and you're saying that a few years from now you will walk away from this because you will be of retirement age. If that's the case between now and then, what's on Beth Sanborn's To-Do list? Personally, first and professionally. But personally, I would have to say that my and my end game, my end result and you caught me a little off guard, but not entirely off guard.
[00:31:43.170] - Beth Sanborn
I want to be your voice. I want to let people know who we are because I'm not alone. I'm one of twenty thousand of us across the country who love kids. I want to be an advocate for school resource officers. I want to be in Washington, D.C., reporting to the policymakers, reporting to our legislators. Our senators are elected officials, to the president to say, no, we are another intervention to be in schools just like you need nurses, just like you need psychologists, like you need guidance counselors, like you need custodians, like you need math teachers.
[00:32:13.020] - Beth Sanborn
You need people like us. We are an expensive resource, but boy, do we do a lot of good. That's where I want my future to be. Until then, I'm incredibly active. I'm on the board of the Pennsylvania Association of School Resource Officers. I teach for our national association, which means I travel the country showing people and educating police officers who are specially chosen how to do this properly because nobody wants a more successful program than us.
[00:32:40.410] - Steve Morreale
So I am thoroughly impressed, thoroughly impressed with your passion, your belief. But what you just said, I think is extremely important. And that was so much when you look at police reform that's been done by people who don't understand what policing is about. And certainly, people who don't understand what the school resource officer brings to a community, a school, its police department and the youth. And your suggestion that you and the National Association of School Resource Officers have to get the attention of policymakers and funders at Washington, as well as state by state, because I think that's important.
[00:33:19.590] - Steve Morreale
The narrative is so negative about school resource officers unnecessarily and unfairly. So have you been able to go to Washington or have you been able to reach out to your own congressional delegation in Pennsylvania to get their attention?
[00:33:35.490] - Beth Sanborn
I will tell you that I never stopped my hustle.
[00:33:38.760] - Steve Morreale
[00:33:39.510] - Beth Sanborn
When you're passionate about something, it's easy to do, but it's difficult to do. Government move slowly with the exception of when there's a knee jerk response. It's not always the greatest response, but you have to hit a policy window at the appropriate time before it closes. I am very active. I am very proactive in that. When it comes to school resource officers in my area, in my region, I get out there as much as possible.
[00:34:04.350] - Beth Sanborn
I'll talk to community organizations, I'll talk to the philanthropy organizations. I'll talk to Chamber of Commerce organizer. It doesn't matter if I can get an audience and if I can promote the work that we do. And you can consider it done because listen, who is the most influential group in a school district? The parents at those parents don't like you. If they don't trust you, if they don't believe your ideology or think that you're not out for the best interest of their child, you can forget about it.
[00:34:32.490] - Steve Morreale
Yes. Let me ask another question as you're going and trying to suggest to others in the country that this is a good gig, that this is a good job, that it's a meaningful job to be a subset of a police officer and a school resource officer, what about your own kind, your own group? Is there work that has to be done to convince police officers who may see you as the teddy bear cop as opposed to the real cop? The value. Clearly, you showed the value at 10:30 at night when they called on you, but partly because you're a juvenile officer, but I see your smile. So so what do you do to overcome that sort of resistance?
[00:35:10.210] - Beth Sanborn
So that is a huge hurdle, because while I am a successful school resource officer, I can't guarantee that I would be a good hostage negotiator, can't guarantee I'd be a great canine officer, and I don't really know that I would want to teach there. So, yeah, when it comes to juvenile officers, we're we're a bit unique. So one of the things that we might need to look at for the longevity, for the successful program, our hiring practices, who do we need, who do we need in policing to be able to fulfill these roles?
[00:35:41.740] - Steve Morreale
Because you can't have a full department of academics and you can't have a full department of cops. You can't have a full demographic of weightlifters and jujitsu masters and tie experts and fishermen. You have to have a good mix because we need to be able to be representative of our community. The way we do that is that we all get a little bit of training and everything. And while we're focusing on special needs and various marginalized populations and making sure that we understand special needs and mentally ill, it's difficult to really put the right peg in the right hole to make sure that we're doing the right thing for our community.
[00:36:17.650] - Beth Sanborn
Is my position desirable within my department? Not really. Despite the hours, there's a bit of resistance for the number of officers that would like to be school resource officers. And you know what? That's fine, because I don't really know that some of them should be in schools. They may take it for the wrong reason, perhaps the hours since Monday to Friday, seven to three. It is kind of nice not to have to work at night shift or a weekend or a Christmas.
[00:36:40.720] - Steve Morreale
Yeah, but you already did that.
[00:36:41.920] - Beth Sanborn
I did that.
[00:36:42.370] - Steve Morreale
That's behind you. It's not like you've got this blessing like a kid. Come right. In you go. You've got a seven or three. I mean, you had you had to make your bones.
[00:36:48.730] - Beth Sanborn
I put my time in and my knees, my back and my diabetes. I can show for it. Yeah. So hiring practices are critical. It is difficult these days to get good candidates. Let me rephrase that. It's difficult these days to get candidates and best in and then without having that carrot to dangle in front of them, like, hey, maybe in a couple of years you'll be SWAT or you'll be canine, or maybe you'll be working in a school playing Duck, Duck, Goose at dismissal.
[00:37:13.510] - Beth Sanborn
Wait, yeah, I do that. I play duck, duck, goose at dismissal at the elementary school sometimes. All right. And some of the elementary school kids call me Officer Ketchup, but that's an entirely different story.
[00:37:24.880] - Steve Morreale
What I think has been glossed over is that you have a seat virtually at all of the schools at the different levels, but your office in the high school. So how do you spread yourself out?
[00:37:34.120] - Beth Sanborn
Well, I'm working on trying to clone myself. It's not going all that well. But that being said, I had a school district issued computer. I have a school district issued cell phone. I have an email address and a telephone and all of those things all filter right through to my cell phone. I got a I can be everywhere and any good if somebody needs you, you can you can get over that to across the street, back and forth, so that I can make sure that I met all of my schools.
[00:38:00.910] - Beth Sanborn
My different schools have different needs in the high school. Students are more proactive with coming to me in the elementary school. I need to be more proactive going into classrooms. When I'm at the elementary school, I can pop into classrooms and engage in morning meetings. And whether it's with the morning miles and taking a walk with the kids or stretching or joining in gym class or talking about a science lesson or reading a book, those are things I get to do at the middle school level.
[00:38:26.710] - Beth Sanborn
Typically, you might find me in the cafeteria or in other large congregation areas in middle schoolers are funny as they're going through puberty and adolescence long those times. And some of them are too cool for school and they don't really want to talk to the car. And then some of them still think that the top is really cool and they ask the questions like, have you ever shot anybody that's a real gun? Like you engage them and you get them thinking and you get them talking and then they're not afraid of you anymore because they're willing to talk and they see that smile.
[00:38:53.950] - Beth Sanborn
That's great. Well, it seems like you have found your passion and you have found your place. I want to thank you for being here today. It's really an honor and a pleasure to chat with you and to hear your upbeat view of this job as a school resource officer and to recognize the value in the community. And I think what I'm taking away from this is for police chiefs that are listening or other high ranking officials, there has to be the right person to be able to take this job and do it well, because it can backfire on you, as you well know, if you put the wrong person it.
[00:39:28.150] - Steve Morreale
What advice would you give to somebody who is looking to select and place somebody in this kind of a job?
[00:39:34.900] - Beth Sanborn
You would just mention to any police chiefs that are listening? I mean, shameless plug that I'll be presenting on my current research at this year's IACP conference in New Orleans in September. Terrific. Because I want to get that information out there. It's under the leadership module for police departments and or school districts that are looking to start this program. You've got to ask questions first. One of the things that. I do in my local communities that all facilitate meetings between the police administration and the school administration, and I will act as a mediator to say this is what you need to provide and this is what you need to provide and this is what you can expect to receive in return.
[00:40:13.970] - Beth Sanborn
And these are the benefits then that your community will say, make sure that if you're going to choose a school resource officer, it's someone who can be trusted, someone who not only acts ethically but appears ethically, who can work without direct supervision, has the flexibility that they can learn a new language. The education language is very different than the policing language, someone that can be trusted to be in a school environment and who isn't afraid to talk because teachers will come up to you in the hallway and say, hey, hey, hey, we're talking about the Constitution.
[00:40:41.610] - Beth Sanborn
Can you come in real quick and talk about the Fourth Amendment? OK, you can buy yourself a couple of minutes of time, but you can't be afraid to stand up in front of a bunch of kids and talk. Now, maybe that's at the high school level, but you can't be afraid to stand up in front of a bunch of kindergartners and talk about stranger danger either. Yes. Choose that right person. That school environment. Don't put the wrong person in there just to to put a square peg in a round hole.
[00:41:05.960] - Steve Morreale
It won't work if it backfires. Does an awful lot of trouble that comes from it, too, for sure. We've been talking to Beth Sanborn in Lower Gwynedd Police Department. She is a detective. She is a school resource officer. She is Dr. Sanborn. And what I'm happy to hear is that you'll be able to spread the word at the ICP coming up. I think that's a great opportunity for you, Beth. So I wish you the best in success.
[00:41:28.160] - Steve Morreale
And thank you for being here. Thanks so much.
[00:41:30.890] - Beth Sanborn
Thank you so much for having me. Thank you for this opportunity to share my passion.
[00:41:34.820] - Steve Morreale
Well, I hope it gets out there and people hear and share the excitement that you have about your job. I appreciate it. This is Steve Morreale. You've been listening to The CopDoc Podcast. Please stay tuned for more episodes. I will suggest to you, if you'd like to reach out, that you can reach me by email at [email protected], [email protected] Two more contacts, I had one from a chief out west who suggested that he was very, very happy with finding the podcast and with learning from the podcast.
[00:42:04.220] - Steve Morreale
And he turned his interim command staff onto it. Preparation for promotion, which is interesting. I also heard from someone up in British Columbia, in Canada, and this person said, boy, do I wish my leaders were listening to the things you and your guests have to say. So thank you all for reaching out. I appreciate it. Again, this is Steve Morreale The CopDoc Podcast. Have a good day. My many thanks to Beth Sandborn for sharing her experience, her research and her perspective on school resource officers in America.
[00:42:33.290] - Steve Morreale
As I was speaking to Jeff Tate in a previous interview, he's the chief in Shakopee, Minnesota, the police department part of the chat centered around his view of school resource officers, especially in the Midwest. I decided to extract a part of that interview to add to Beth Sanborn's interview, if you wouldn't mind. So I'm happy to add a small section of that chat to give perspective beyond Beth's from a chief of police in the Midwest. So now here's Jeff Tate, Chief of Police, Shakopee, Minnesota.
[00:43:10.080] - Steve Morreale
So, Jeff, we were talking off air, but you were talking about S.R.O. school resource officers and the concerns you have about those communities that are saying we need them out of the community. I think they're very important. I actually just talked to Beth Sanborn, who is an SRO. She did a study and she is an SRO is pretty aggravated at the fact that people would have the audacity to say that police are the problem instead of some of the solutions with having our officers in the schools.
[00:43:37.250] - Steve Morreale
It seems to me you have SROs. Is the selection process and putting the right person in that job.
[00:43:42.620] - Jeff Tate
It is incredibly important because again, from a community policing standpoint, school resource officers are fantastic tools. They are some of your best recruiters. We've recruited kids into the profession and into our department that have been inspired by our school resource officers. And it is an absolute crying shame what is being done, this narrative pathway to prison, which is such a farce to begin with. When you look at all the diversion programs that are out there throughout the country and for juveniles, again, so little of what a school resource officer does is how you'll take a theft report of a phone or something like that.
[00:44:20.210] - Jeff Tate
But it's those relationships. And I can tell you, we have four in our department, two in the high school, two middle schools. And I've been very, very active with them in this last year because I'm curious what the narrative is in the school, what the kids are hearing, what the questions are. And they as much as any cop, they have so much interaction on a hundreds of kids on a daily basis. And it's amazing how many kids come up to them after the Brooklyn Center incident.
[00:44:45.680] - Jeff Tate
And I've got a gun here, a Taser here. How does this happen? How does this get screwed? I think that is a positive thing, that this kid comes up to our officer and asks that and they can have that conversation. And that happened every day this year. Whether it was the George Floyd or it was the incident with the Taser that happened a few months ago. It's vital that they have those conversations and the school resource officers always say, you know, the kids come back and, well, gosh, I wish more cops were like you.
[00:45:12.410] - Jeff Tate
Well, how many cops do you know? I only know you. OK, well, then let's get you to know my partners, because they're just like me too. And they have kids that play soccer and football, those types of things. How is that bad? And a lot of what our school resource officers do even in the summer with these kids, it's amazing the rapport that they have and to just ignore that and turn a blind eye to it.
[00:45:36.860] - Jeff Tate
I think it's a measure when you're talking about measuring again from a community policing standpoint, we've had a lot of support and don't you dare take those officers out of the schools. So I think that's another area you can look at it. But in Minneapolis, for example, Steve, they took the S.R.O. A couple of those vessels were the high school football coaches. Nobody ever talks about that. What kind of mentorship do you think those folks had with those kids keeping them out of trouble?
[00:46:03.950] - Jeff Tate
There's a few of them that got Division One scholarships. Well, who held their hands and made sure that they were on task and knew the opportunity that was afforded to them. Nobody measured that. Nobody talks about that as an indicator of a good police department. Those guys were finished their shift and went out and coached football, the very kids that they were, quote unquote, policing in the school. So I think it's a huge step backwards throughout the country that we're stepping backwards on this school resource officer.
[00:46:30.660] - Jeff Tate
It doesn't line, in my view, with community policing. And we've completely forgotten as well why we put cops in there in the first place. There is a safety measure there that we seem to be ignoring.
[00:46:41.570] - Steve Morreale
Certainly, one of the things that is misunderstood is that that police officer with the authority, with the gun belt, with the handcuffs, that's the reason they're in the schools, couldn't be further from the truth. In most cases, police officers are going to avoid making arrests. Right, because it undermines their relationship in the future. Fair statement?
[00:46:58.760] - Jeff Tate
Absolutely a fair statement. The last thing they want to do is have to put a handcuff on somebody in a school. There are some incidents even recently school shootings where thank goodness there wasn't an officer there. Yes, we had one here in Minnesota in a middle school. But that mentorship, that that approachability that they have, they hear from their teacher on some of these social issues and some of the police reform that's being talked about, it's important that while they're at the lunch table, the cop sits down to and they can order chicken nuggets, talk about what's really going on.
[00:47:30.590] - Jeff Tate
Yes. And that happens. And again, somebody tell me how that's bad. Oh, it's that bad public policy to have these officers interacting with these kids like that. It's certainly, from a recruitment standpoint, going to hurt us in the long run, too, because I think there's some of our best recruiters identifying kids that, you know, maybe want to get into law enforcement and those career choices and how they help lead them down the path and the number of letters and cards these saros get to get him.
[00:47:56.840] - Jeff Tate
Steve, they get invited to all kinds of graduation parties.
[00:48:00.230] - Steve Morreale
They become a part of the family, yeah.
[00:48:01.640] - Jeff Tate
Kids are inviting them to their graduation parties every year. And there's a narrative, again, out there that I think is just completely off base, completely wrong. And unfortunately, in too many communities, it's become just an easy chopping block and nobody stop to think for one second the positive things that happen.
[00:48:19.910] - Steve Morreale
Well, what I'm hearing are a few things that Saros allow for accessibility, approachability, relationship building for sure, and helping students understand and have a better understanding of policing, which I really think is important. And I think that anything that we can do to help young people, staff members, faculty members, administrators have a better understanding of consuming police services is nothing but a plus.
[00:48:44.210] - Jeff Tate
Absolutely, 100% agree. Our students, for the most part, want the cops and their parents want our officers. And there it's been real interesting, again, to hear some of the comments. Who is it that really doesn't want the officers in there? And I think that can be telling to their community and who's making the noise to not have the officers in there? It's just been it was too easy, too quick. These decisions were and I think a lot of these schools, school districts are going to wind up regretting it down the road sooner than later.
[00:49:12.590] - Steve Morreale
Well, the funding and taking people off the road and all that stuff, that brings us down to a whole different path than discussion. But I've been talking again with Jeff Tate, the chief of police at Shakopee, Minnesota Police Department, and talking about SROs and their role in the schools, in the community and in community policing. Jeff, thank you very, very much.
[00:49:31.580] - Jeff Tate
[00:49:34.160] - Outro
Thanks for listening to The CopDoc Podcast with Dr. Steve Morreale. Steve is a retired law enforcement practitioner and manager turned academic and scholar from Worcester State University. Please tune into The CopDoc Podcast for regular episodes of interviews with thought leaders in policing.
[00:49:53.120] - Steve Outro
Hi, everybody. A few things before you leave. First, thanks for listening. I'm so gratified to see the downloads rising in the. Last few months, not only from the U.S., but from across the globe, it's surprising and humbling to find students, colleagues and practitioners listening. We have a growing number of listeners in Canada, Ireland, England, Northern Ireland, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Colombia. We appreciate your time and energy and welcome feedback.
[00:50:16.560] - Steve Outro
Please feel free to reach out to me by email at [email protected] That's [email protected] Check out our website at CopDoc Podcast.com. Please take the time to share our podcast with your friend if you find value in the discussions. We've had so many amazing guests and more to come who have shared their wisdom, their thoughts, their viewpoints and their innovative ideas. Most importantly, a huge thank you to those of you who show up for work in policing every day, not knowing the kinds of calls that you'll be sent on or the kinds of situations you'll find yourself in, you risk your lives for people, many of whom you don't know.
[00:50:54.420] - Steve Outro
And for that, we owe you a debt of gratitude. A big thanks. Hope you stay safe, healthy and look forward to hearing from you and hope you'll continue to listen to upcoming episodes of The CopDoc Podcast. Thanks very much.