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Education

Relationship between students, police is mutually beneficial

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    Toledo police officer Rick Trevino outside of the cafeteria as one lunch period ends at Bowsher High School.

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    Ester Gomez, 15, a sophomore at Bowsher High School, with TPD officer Rick Trevino. Ester is unhappy that Trevino is leaving Bowsher to become the school resource officer at Waite.

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    School resource officers Jeron Ellis, left, and Rick Trevino talk with students in the Bowsher High School cafeteria February 23, 2018.

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    School resource officer Rick Trevino of the Toledo Police Department, left, on his last day on the job at Bowsher High School February 23, 2018. Trevino moved to Waite High School, and was training officer Jeron Ellis, right, to take over at Bowsher.

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    School resource officer Rick Trevino of the Toledo Police Department at Bowsher High School. He has since taken over as the school resource officer at Waite High School.

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    Officer Rick Trevino has a word with a student toward the end of lunch period at Bowsher High School.

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    Officer Rick Trevino at Bowsher High School February 23, 2018.

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    Toledo police officer Rick Trevino

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Officer Rick Trevino stepped through the front doors of Bowsher High School and before he could take three paces, his name echoed through the empty hallway.

“Trevino!,” Anthony Farnum, a Bowsher student, yelled in excitement.

“What’s up, Bird?” Officer Trevino said, addressing the student by his nickname.

CTY-school-1

Toledo police officer Rick Trevino outside of the cafeteria as one lunch period ends at Bowsher High School.

The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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The two then gave each other dap — a less formal, more intimate handshake. It’s a greeting often shared between people with mutual respect for one another. This is how they embrace every morning.

“We’re cool, so I just give him dap every morning,” Anthony said.

It was almost 8 a.m. on Feb. 23, and the chaos of students scrambling to get to class had calmed.

Since his first day at Bowsher two years ago, Officer Trevino worked diligently to develop a relationship with the students, deliberately removing barriers that would inhibit him from connecting with them on a more personal level.

It’s the part of his job he takes pride in the most.

“I can sit here all day long and look at my computer and watch the kids’ lives go by, or I can actually get involved,” he said.

VIDEO: School resource officer Rick Trevino

Officer Trevino is an affable man, guided by a simple principle: Treat others the way you want to be treated. And it’s his moral compass coupled with an uncommon willingness to develop a rapport with students that has made him trustworthy in the eyes of hundreds of teenagers.

“I don’t see him as a police officer even though that’s what his job is,” said Joshua Avalos, an 18-year-old senior. “I see him as a person. We talk about our life stories, our background, and it’s crazy because even though he’s a cop I know I can trust him.”

More Than A Police Officer

In the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting that left 17 people dead, school resource officers are on high alert as the country shifts its attention to school safety and a larger debate about gun control.

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School resource officer Rick Trevino of the Toledo Police Department, left, on his last day on the job at Bowsher High School February 23, 2018. Trevino moved to Waite High School, and was training officer Jeron Ellis, right, to take over at Bowsher.

The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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But for Officer Trevino and other police officers who spend their days in the hallways of northwest Ohio schools, it’s more mundane problems — drug dealing, vandalism, fighting — that demand their attention.

And while they monitor classrooms, cafeterias, and hallways, school resource officers have an opportunity to make an impression on students at an early age, and potentially shape their opinions about law enforcement — an outlook that could be especially valuable at Toledo Public Schools, a district where the majority of students are non-white.

Whether it’s Officer Trevino or Officer Jeron Ellis, the school resource officer’s duties are not only to keep the school safe but also to serve as a mentor to students, said Lt. Kevin Braun, Toledo Police Department’s community services section commander.

“They’re role models to the kids and each and every day, without fail, they have to go into the school and basically serve as a shining example for the young people in those schools,” he said.

As an African-American, Officer Ellis said he understands the importance of students having positive interactions with police officers at a young age.

“My first encounters with police were positive, so I always had a good taste in my mouth in dealing with police,” he said. “They might see some things in the media or hear from their friends that all cops are bad, so I think it’s even more important than ever for them to have that type of interaction with us.”

Mike Brickner, the senior policy director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, said he recognizes the importance of police and young people building relationships of trust, but the presence of officers in schools could be more harmful than helpful.

“Unfortunately, having the police officers stationed in schools often times will lead to particularly kids of color being criminalized,” he said.

Mr. Brickner said it’s disturbing when children and teenagers are arrested or thrust into jail for behavior that in years past would never have led to the intervention of law enforcement.

“This is the school to prison pipeline we talk about.”

But Lt. Braun said TPD school resource officers are not at schools to arrest students.

“Our SRO’s take pride and ownership in their schools,” he said. “They’re emotionally invested in what happens inside those schools, and they care about the kids they’re dealing with. They’re there to protect, help, and mentor kids, and all the other things that come along with being a police officer outside of enforcing the law.”

Saying Goodbye

It’s Officer Trevino’s connection with the students that made Feb. 23 a special day. It was his last day working as the school resource officer at Bowsher.

He transferred to Waite High in March to serve in the same role there.

The whispers about Officer Trevino’s departure had already begun circulating around school.

As he stood in front of the library between first and second period, he couldn’t escape the warmth of the students he was leaving behind.

“Why are you leaving us?” Ester Gomez, a 15-year-old student, said. “Please don’t leave us.”

“Trevino, I’m going to miss you,” another student said.

One by one, students approached him searching for answers, but mainly wanting to express their affection for him. At times, it resembled a funeral procession.

Before changing schools, Officer Trevino spent his last week at Bowsher training his replacement, Officer Ellis.

In addition to keeping the building safe, Officer Marquitta Bey, the school resource officer at Start High, said her primary role is to be in the school to foster community relations between law enforcement and students.

“I don’t like to be here from just a law enforcement standpoint,” she said. “Some students come and talk to me because they are having some emotional issues related to home, a teacher, or related to another student. Luckily, since I’ve been here, I’ve developed a rapport with a lot of them where they’re comfortable with me.”

A strong relationship between students and resource officers can sometimes help officers catch criminals.

“These kids know more about what’s going on than we ever could,” Officer Trevino said. “Once they know you, and they realize you’re a human being and you’re just like them, people actually talk to you and tell you things.”

Earning the trust of students has paid dividends for Officer Trevino. Information provided to him by students has helped him catch a criminal several times, including an elusive drug dealer in the school who was arrested last year.

On his last day at Bowsher, Officer Trevino was prepared to leave and start a new journey at Waite and establish relationships with a new crop of students.

As he packed up his office, Raylena Scott, a 17-year-old senior, sat in a chair with her head resting in the palm of her hands, crestfallen.

“I don’t want you to leave for real,” she said.

“Don’t worry, [Officer] Ellis is a great guy,” Officer Trevino said.

“I know,” she said. “But he’s not you.”

Contact Javonte Anderson at janderson@theblade.com419-724-6065, or on Twitter @JavonteA.

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