Archive for Thursday, December 6, 2001

Whisenhunt provides daily lesson in law enforcement to DHS students

December 6, 2001

Dave Whisenhunt has a 30-minute description of his duties as school resource office for De Soto High School, but he can also sum it up with two brief sentences.

"I compare this school to a city," he said. "I'm the police chief of this little city."

The school's "mayor" appreciates Whisenhunt's contribution. Standing in front the school's administrative offices Monday during a break between classes, Principal Debbie Lynn noticed an object fly through the air in a distant hallway. She immediately asked Whisenhunt to investigate.

Sending a uniformed officer to look into such a routine matter is quite a luxury, Lynn said. But stopping small problems from becoming big problems is what a school resource officer is all about, Whisenhunt and Lynn agreed.

"He creates a pro-active environment," Lynn said. "That's the best prevention there is."

Prevention can take the form of actively preventing a verbal argument from escalating to a fight or investigating allegations of misdeeds, Whisenhunt said.

"If two kids are arguing in the lunch line, I can break it up and keep them out of trouble," he said. "Most of the time they're not going to start fighting when they see a law enforcement officer standing there.

"Bullying is a big emphasis. If I get word of a problem, I get pull a kid in and explain what is going to happen if they get in a fight."

Like most other schools in the metropolitan area, De Soto has adopted a zero-tolerance policy concerning violence. The consequences of fighting are arrest and placement with juvenile corrections, Whisenhunt said.

As part of his law enforcement mission, Whisenhunt helps the district prepare for the worst. He serves on the district's emergency management team and is trained to respond to a crisis from lessons learned through the Columbine High School tragedy. Before those shootings, procedure was to await the arrival of SWAT officers before responding to shootings.

"Training has changed," he said. "When another officer arrives at the building, the two of us would respond in the building. I know the building. When someone says, 'The gunmen is in the library,' I know where the library is."

Another lesson of Columbine is be aware of potential problems in a school and take what students say seriously, Whisenhunt said.

"You have to," he said. "It's not a joke. The staff here is really good about that."

It is also Whisenhunt's job be available for kids with problems long before they consider anything criminal. In addition to his law enforcement duties, Whisenhunt said he acts as a counselor. Whisenhunt said kids sometimes just want to talk about their problems, but there are occasions they want to know where they can go for help.

"Kids come in and tell me they have this problem or that problem," he said. "I refer them to people in school or outside agencies. I've had kids tell me, 'I think I have a drug problem. Where do I go?'

"I'm considered one of the staff. I'm a member of the care team for some of the students I've arrested."

The last component of his job is appropriately teaching. Whisenhunt said that means more than teaching the requisite safe driving and drug and alcohol awareness class.

"Teachers ask me in to teach classes on search and seizure," he said. "I taught a math class at the middle school on the formula we use to determine how fast a car was going from skid marks."

Whisenhunt said he hopes students learn something more basic from his daily presence among them.

"When families are out in the community and see a policemen, parents tell their little kids, 'If you're not good, I'm going to send you with that guy over there,'" he said. "I think I'm building a rapport with the kids so they can approach an officer on the street to tell them of a problem."

As the bell ended the school's first class period Monday morning, it was apparent students have a rapport with Whisenhunt. Senior German-exchange student Marc Krause entered Whisenhunt's office for a quick hello.

"He lets me know about a lot of things," Krause said. "He told me about the Renaissance Festival, and it was a good time. He tells me about his job."

Krause is a "good kid," Whisenhunt said. It is a compliment he freely pays to the students he sees later in the school's hallway. He even bestows it on a youngster he admits to arresting twice.

That observation shows she and Whisenhunt take the same view toward students, Lynn said.

"He has the same philosophy I have," the principal said. "There are no bad kids, just bad decisions.

"We're so fortunate to have him here. I know everyday he's not in the building."

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