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Strides toward a safer campus


PRJUSD establishes a full-time Student Resources Officer on campus

Standing in the quad making conversation with administrators, getting to know students, or introducing himself via a quick video on the morning announcements, Officer Joe Leonard can be seen around campus in uniform, as PRHS’s new Student Resources Officer.

About 78.1 percent of students reported feeling more concerned about their safety at school, according to a survey done in March. This is in due part to an increasingly polarized political climate, racial tensions, and mild violence on campus, according to the environment observed in the spring of 2018.

Additionally, the use of drugs and alcohol seem to be more prevalent than ever, with students having more access to ownership of electronic smoking devices. Looking to prevent feelings of unease or instances of physical and verbal misconduct, PRJUSD appointed Leonard of the Paso Robles Police Department to the permanent position of SRO on campus.

”I’m just here to help keep the campus safe, and be friendly, and be nice,” Leonard said. “I think it increases [students’] comfort, knowing, ‘Hey, I have armed security for me.’”

The process began in March, with a series of interviews through the police department.  Although the position is not necessarily new, as Officer Bob Velasquez previously served as an SRO on campus, the job description has slightly changed. Leonard will be on campus from the start to end of each school day, and may be called to other campuses within the district if a situation arises that requires his skill set.

Leonard has been interested in this position for 13 year, and is currently contracted to remain on campus permanently. His main interactions with students are reflective of counseling or simply making friendly conversation.

”We felt there was a definite need to help support our entire district,” Principal Eric Martinez said of hiring Leonard. “That’s just something that’s standard nowadays.”

The conversation about changes to the student resources officer job began mid-way through the 2017-18 school year.

The job description now allows Leonard to provide support for the high school and district by building relationships with students and families, supporting administrative and school-wide needs, and creating an avenue where kids can feel safe with him on campus. He works in dual partnership with the police department and the school district, in which access on both sides allows for due diligence in creating a safe environment. If  a situation requires an officer of the law, Leonard is to act as the first responder and first line of defense.

Leonard has worked as an officer for 10 years, after being hired in 2007 and graduating from the academy in 2008, with experience in various positions within the SWAT team, including defensive tactics instructor, baton/taser/chemical weapons instructor, and his current position as a sniper and firearms instructor. Over the course of 10 years, he has dealt with a broad variety of situations, which he reports have given him the comfort to know that he can handle any call.

”I have the confidence to know that I can make sound decisions under stress and under pressure,” Leonard said.

Leonard also said that he has had hopes of holding this position since 2013, and applied earlier this year after seeing the job description posted on the district’s site.

“We’ve needed another [on-campus SRO] for a long time. It’s been a long time coming, so I’ve been pushing really hard for it,” Leonard said. ”If something were to happen here, your safety is my number one priority. That’s why I’m here.”

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