School resource officer seeks to empower students, make school safer for all

By Beth A. Birmingham | Mar 06, 2018
Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham During an RSU 40 School Board meeting, School Resource Officer Chris Spear, standing, shows some of the drug paraphernalia he has confiscated while policing the school.

Waldoboro — While Regional School Unit 13 ponders placing a school resource officer in its high school, Waldoboro Police Officer Chris Spear is doing his part to thwart unwanted behavior in RSU 40.

The program has been in place for 14 years, and Spear is the fifth SRO within the district.

"I like to believe that I bring compassion to the job," he said. "I try to look at things from their [the students'] perspective."

Spending time in the hallways, lunchroom and having daily interactions, Spear said, helps him gain the trust of the kids. He said attending more community and athletic events helps as well.

"I have an open door policy, and want to try to change their perception of law enforcement," he said. He doesn't proactively look for a problem, but more for catching young adults doing something good. "I like empowering the students," he said.

Now in his fourth year as the SRO working between Medomak Valley High School and Medomak Middle School, Spear began building a relationship with some kids early on. "Now to see their maturity is great," he said.

Ten percent of the students are 90 percent of the work, according to Spear, who said some of the younger kids act instinctively instead of thinking things through, like some of the older kids.

"They're coming from all different situations," he said. "Sometimes the kids are a reflection of what's going on at home, and their behavior is a lead," he said. One of the most disturbing things for Spear is victimization.

"Because of society and where some children are at -- whether it's their parents, society, or what -- some kids just have the potential to become victims," he said.

And Spear said social media and video gaming definitely has the potential to be just as dangerous as in-person interactions.

"Video games are huge. Kids are getting addicted to them and they can change your brain just as bad as drugs can," he said. "It's scary."

"There is a direct correlation between playing some video games that causes kids to become desensitized to violence," Spear said, having learned that fact in one of his many training sessions.

He said he and the district take every complaint and threat seriously.

Through his training he also learned that if a person were to go off social media for seven days their brain would revert back to where it was before.

With the arrival of social media, Spear said users' interpersonal skills have definitely degraded.

He also stressed the importance of situational awareness.

"I've seen kids walk right into walls before," Spear said, noting that's not the worst thing that can happen, depending on where they are.

"A vast majority of the kids carry themselves with self-respect," he said, but he also noted that some act like they are entitled to a certain kind of treatment.

Spear said he has tried to convey to students that the way they handle themselves in any given situation affects the outcome of the situation. "The most difficult part of the job is trying to help kids who don't want to help themselves," Spear said. "Some kids just feel stuck in their current situation, even though there are a ton of resources," he said.

"Kids just want to get together, get messed up and forget about life for a while," Spear said. "Marijuana is a key issue right now," he said, pointing out that he collaborates with Healthy Lincoln Partners, ARC Addiction Center and Miles Memorial Hospital on issues that arise not only in the communities, but that roll over into the schools as well.

With the drug industry constantly evolving -- from various vape pens to "special" gummy bears to a substance called liquid gold, Spear has to be up to date.

One of the most disturbing pieces of paraphernalia Spear has confiscated at the high school was a vial of Krush "liquid gold" -- extremely condensed THC from marijuana.

He explained the vial is inserted into a vape pen and inhaled. This and other products are available online, he said. "You have a credit card and you're good," Spear said. "They [sellers] are not going to do an age check."

He has also confiscated a single THC-infused gummy bear. Its street value is $2, but it costs $400 to test it for drugs.

As everyone reacts to drugs differently, Spear said, the hard part about the edibles is they affect the body before the mind.

"Some users were not getting high fast enough and were ingesting more, resulting in overdoses," he said; by the time they start feeling the effects of the drug, they've already overdosed, because they've consumed too much.

"Spice" also referred to as "potpourri," which used to be sold in some gas stations, is more dangerous than the edible gummy bears, Spear said.

Although the packaging says "not for human consumption," it is smoked just like marijuana.

"Vaping is the new tobacco," Spear said, adding that the "liquid gold" is the new marijuana.

Spear said the district is lucky that it has its own ambulance service in Waldoboro with staff that is trained to administer Narcan if necessary.

He works closely with the administration, guidance counselor, school social worker, juvenile community corrections officers, as well as Knox and Lincoln County sheriff's departments as a liaison.

Spear is also a licensed social worker and a mental health rehabilitative technician, training that has assisted him in other difficult situations.

"Every threat is dynamic," Spear said when asked if he had ever had to defuse a violent situation at the school. "There is not one set answer due to variables including source, history and validation."

With various walkouts planned to protest lawmakers' inaction on gun control legislation since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., Spear said he is not aware if Medomak Valley students are planning to participate.

"We will not sponsor or promote the National School Walkout on March 14, but recognize some students may wish to participate," Superintendent Steve Nolan said March 1.

Nolan said the administration is working to ensure the safety of students who do choose to participate and minimize the disruption to the school day.

"We will learn from our experience on March 14 and revise plans accordingly for any future events," Nolan said.

Women's March Youth Empower is calling for students, teachers and allies to take part in a National School Walkout for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. March 14 -- one minute for each victim killed on that deadly Feb. 14.

Another national school walkout is set for April 20, the 19th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. That event is a full-day walkout.

Spear is the only local SRO. Other Midcoast schools that do have one are Lincoln Academy, Topsham, Freeport, Morse, Lewiston, Mount View and Belfast.

Courier Publications reporter Beth A. Birmingham can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 125 or via email at bbirmingham@villagesoup.com.

School Resource Officer
(Video by: Beth A. Birmingham/Amber Abbotoni)
Some of the drugs, paraphernalia and weapons RSU 40 School Resource Officer Chris Spear has confiscated. (Photo by: Beth A. Birmingham)
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