column: Eliminating police officers in Ann Arbor schools a nonsensical budget cut
When he arrived at Pioneer High School, I was a sophomore. He quickly became legendary among students because he seemed to be everywhere at once. To most he was known as “O.D.” to others more criminally inclined he was known as the “Creeper.”
The “Creeper” tag came from some paranoid dope smokers who swore that he was hiding underneath a car in the parking lot in order to catch them. His real name was Ann Arbor Police Department School Liaison Officer John Devine.
Skyline High School
In 1992, Officer Devine — hence the “O.D ”— retired from the Ann Arbor Police Department in order to take a position as a community assistant with the Ann Arbor Public Schools. His “new” position was still involved with maintaining order in the schools, and he was still well respected by students and faculty alike. I saw him last Thursday, and he told me he was retiring from that position.
I first really got to talk to him after a high school law class. He was warm and approachable. I had been interested in police work since about eighth grade, but after Officer Devine helped get me registered for a Law Enforcement Career Camp sponsored by the Ann Arbor Kiwanis Club, The Ann Arbor Police, The Michigan State Police and The Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office, I was hooked. I had to be a cop, and my enthusiasm for police work has not waned in all these years.
Several years after that career camp, I had the honor of working with John Devine after I became an Ann Arbor police officer. I was assigned a walking beat with O.D. for a few summer evenings, and I quickly realized how he could be everywhere at once around Pioneer High.
O.D. did not walk a beat like most cops who saunter to convey an "All is well here — no need to fear — we are here to keep you safe" attitude. O.D. walked a beat like it was the last day before vacation and he had a lot to get done. O.D. walked FAST.
I had to break into a jog a few times to keep up with him. Around Liberty, State, William and Thompson we flew. Through alleys and Nickels Arcade, up stairs and down ramps in the carports; wherever we went we were high-stepping and moving fast to catch violators and criminals — no wonder he is still in such good shape!
It is ironic that I would see him during the same month that the Ann Arbor Public Schools cut the three high school liaison officers out of next year’s budget. This was a program that started around 1968 and has been tremendously effective.
Back in the 1960s when the program was initiated, the officers only worked "part-time"in the high schools. In 1972, the assignment became a full-time permanent assignment for an officer in Pioneer High. In 1974, Huron High also got a full time school liaison officer.
The most beneficial part of the program was that the abstract “POLICE” became an actual living, breathing person the students could speak to. The most important attribute for the officers chosen, for this very-sought-after assignment, was that the officers truly enjoyed interacting with kids.
The school liaison officers were tasked with keeping students and faculty safe, enforcing the law, keeping order, being an attentive ear and an instructive tongue to young adults — all the while keeping it low key in an academic environment.
The “high school” police liaison officers' primary assignment was in “their” high school, but they also served all the elementary and middle schools that fed their particular high school. Between the liaison officers they were responsible for all police issues that developed in the Ann Arbor Public Schools.
That meant that on any given day these armed plainclothes officers might have to: counsel upset frightened victims, investigate crimes — mostly larcenies and assaults —deal with irate mothers protecting their children or angry sports dads, shoo dope dealers out of the parking lots, answer a teacher’s question for his or her nephew who got stopped by the police, keep school administrators and police bosses apprised and keep order at the many sporting events after school.
The school liaison officers involved found it both challenging and rewarding. They loved their “beat” because it was largely populated by innocent, fresh-faced, bright-eyed, confident and optimistic young people with their lives ahead of them.
For police detectives downtown the school liaison officers were an extremely valuable investigative resource. They knew the all the kids in the current school year as well as previous years. The liaison officer knew the child, his or her parents, siblings, friends and enemies and this can be very important if the youth runs afoul in his or her adulthood — a reminder to readers that juvenile offenders become adult criminals in the eyes of the law at age 17 for criminal cases in the State of Michigan.
It is a terrible shame that the Ann Arbor Public Schools have axed the school liaison officers from their budget. I realize that budgets are tight and cuts have to be made, but I question the judgment of placing a community’s most valuable asset, its children, at added risk in our schools. It's akin to homeowners tightening the budget by discontinuing their homeowner’s insurance.
On a personal note the school liaison officer was instrumental in helping me realize a dream. Thank you O.D. for your years in the public schools and shoe leather you must have burned up walking the halls and parking lots — it was time and leather well spent. Have a great retirement — you earned it!
Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbor.