By FRAN MAYE
Sarah London knows the hallways at Kennett High School by heart.
She should. She’s a 2003 graduate of the school, and is the new school resource officer.
Since starting her new full-time job on Jan. 29, London’s main focus has been school security, but to many students, she’s a role model and mentor.
“A lot of times, people have encounters with police only in negative situations or when something bad happens, but I’m here to help create positive relationships with students,” she said. “I want them to look at police in a positive way.”
London, 29, is already familiar with many of the 1,200 students. She is a familiar face at the Garage Youth Center in Kennett Square and often helps out with Study Buddies and Kennett Middle’s After The Bell program.
“I love working with kids,” London said. “I think building relationships in young adults is what makes the community fluid.”
London was a natural fit for the job, said Kennett Square Police Chief Ed Zunino. School administrators and Kennett Square police joined efforts to apply for a state grant to fund a school resource officer. A $60,000 grant was obtained, through the assistance of local lawmakers, enough to fund the first year, and a $30,000 grant was obtained for the second year.
London works primarily at Kennett High School, but is also authorized to work at Mary D. Lang Elementary School. Both schools are located in Kennett Square borough. Barry Tomasetti, superintendent at Kennett Consolidated School District, said he is hopeful funding can be obtained to include the other schools in the district that are located in Kennett and New Garden townships.
London is intensely engaged with the students at the high school. Often, she will often have lunch with them.
“I really want them to know that I’m someone they can speak with if they have a problem,” she said.
London has already given speeches on bullying, cyber bullying, search and seizure and has talked about DUI at driver’s education classes. Even at math classes, her police experience fits well into formulas involving drag, skid and friction.
She’s not there to search lockers. School officials are legally permitted to randomly search lockers with just reasonable suspicion. But London needs probable cause to do so, which carries a much higher burden of proof.
“It’s not like I am shaking kids down in the hallways,” she said. “I still need to follow all the same rules as on the street. Nothing changes for me just because I’m in the school.”
Tomasetti said that in the past, there was a stigma attached to having a school resource officer, but today, in light of unexpected school violence, being pro-active is the proper approach.
“Our schools are very safe and orderly,” said Tomasetti, who has two sons at the high school, and one who graduated in 2012. “My main interest is to do everything we can to make our schools as safe as possible from people of ill intent. We’re looking to expand this in the future.”
The job is very different from patrolling the streets of Kennett Square, London said.
“When I was on the street, I see people at their worst, or when they have hardships,” she said. “Here, I see positives, people smiling and saying hello. It’s a nice change of pace. I get to set a foundation for years to come with this program.”
Having a patrol car parked in front of the high school tells would-be intruders to stay away. And with London patrolling the hallways day in and day out, students think twice about illegal activity.
“I think my presence here acts as a deterrent (for drug activity),” London said. “There are problems everywhere, but Kennett is taking a probative step. This (program) is telling parents we are protecting your children.”
London works in cooperation with Signal 88, which patrols all of the district’s schools during school hours.
“I have an open door policy,” London said. “I really want these kids to know they have someone they can speak with if they have a problem. It’s nice because the police department has a great relationship with the school.”