PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Schools have had security guards for decades.

In recent years, with more and more mass shootings and stabbings in schools, more districts also now have trained police officers, called “resource officers.”

But, what exactly is their role? What part do they play in keeping our kids safe?

Aaron Vanatta is a school resource officer at Quaker Valley High School, but he’s also a police officer.

He said a school resource officer and security guard are not one in the same.

“I think what your school security does is more of the hall monitor type person – maybe someone that escorts someone to the office, or things like that. As school resource officers, school police officers, we don’t get involved in discipline. We try to just do the outreach, the counseling and enforce the laws,” Vanatta said.

Vanatta is a director for the National Association of School Resource Officers.

He trains other police officers working in schools like J.P. Duckworth, a Collier Township police officer, who works at Chartiers Valley Primary School.

“It’s welcoming. It’s the thankful part of the job instead of the thankless job I’ve been doing for the past ten years. It’s a lot different, I enjoy it now,” Duckworth said. “They call me Officer Duck.”

The basic school resource officer training is 40 hours. Advanced training is an additional 24 hours. It covers topics like understanding the teen brain, threat response, drug trends and social media.

Unfortunately, we’ve recently seen examples of school resource officers and security guards acting inappropriately. One example is in South Carolina, when a video surfaced showing a resource officer flipping a disruptive teenager out of her desk.

Another incident closer to home happened at Steel Valley Middle School. There, a security guard was fired for reportedly slamming a student’s head on a table.

Vanatta and senior instructor Edward Bova said officers must remember their roles, and not escalate disruptive situations.

“We focus more on the outreach, teaching kids about safety issues, and enforcing the laws,” Vanatta said.

Schools aren’t required to have resource officers or police officers, though many in Western Pennsylvania do. The school resource officer training program emphasizes the triad concept – three main roles of the resource officer to be an educator, informal counselor and law enforcement officer.

“Before I entered this classroom this week, I was just basing what I was doing off my experiences as a police officer. Seeing and being in this course now, I was doing okay from the hip, but there’s a lot more that I have to learn,” Avella School District Resource Officer David Watts said.

There isn’t a school resource officer at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf in Pittsburgh. However, Campus Safety Director Michael DelCimmuto said they, too, have to protect their students and understand how to relate to them.

“Being the fact that they are deaf and hard of hearing, we take special concern that their safety and their well-being is right up there with the highest quality of education we can give them,” DelCimmuto said. “What I can take back to the Safety and Security Department is that we can’t address this like we did on the streets with adults. Kids are special. They have to process things in a different way.”

As students are learning, so are the police officers assigned to their schools – learning how to better protect, serve and be a valuable resource.

Lisa Washington