School Resource Officer Makes Connections
MPD Officer Maria Poles on building trust with kids in and out of school.
Maria Poles is the School Resource Officer for the Milton Police Department. She is stationed at Milton High School during the school year, and runs the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) camp for middle schoolers during the summer. Officer Poles, or “O.P.” as she is called by the students, spoke with columnist Julie Fay about reaching kids, as well as building community among young people and with the police.
What do you like most about being the School Resource Officer?
My heart is very much in it. I’m 32 years old, so I’m not so far removed from high school that I don’t understand the pressures or the day-to-day drama. Kids will just come and hang out in my office during study hall; it’s an opportunity for them to vent. They tell me things you’d be surprised they’d tell a cop! I know all their stuff; I feel like I can connect with them. Also, the high school staff is very supportive. They let me do my thing.
What are some issues you find in the schools?
We have incidents happening every single day, from an iPod being stolen, to bullying, to the daily normal drama like cat fights among the girls or fist fights among the boys. The kids know me and the officers that arrive on scene, and because they already have a relationship with us, they’re more willing to speak with us.
You start building relationships with younger kids at D.A.R.E. camp.
Middle schoolers are at that age where we really can get them to listen. The kids are great. They’re still honest and concerned about each other.
Describe the camp.
We run the camp in two different week-long sessions in the summer. Each session enrolls 50 kids, and we have 5 to 7 officers involved. We take field trips every day, like to Canobie Lake Park or a Pawtucket Red Sox game. We took the incoming sixth-graders, who attended four different elementary schools, to Thompson Island for an Outward Bound team-building course. It helps them get to know each other as they’re getting ready to go to Pierce. We also play games and have a pizza party on the last day.
We have conversations about the issues that are prevalent in society right now, including drugs, alcohol, bullying and stealing. We sit in a big circle, and it’s an opportunity to talk but also to meet the officers, so they’ll feel comfortable talking to us if there’s an issue (in the future.)
What are the long-term benefits of reaching out to kids in D.A.R.E. camp?
The kids we meet in D.A.R.E. camp help us in the future. They’re open with us; they help us solve our crimes. They’re our future in Milton, and if they have an issue we can help them. We can get in there and mediate the situation if we know them on a personal level.
Why do you do what you do?
I was always someone who didn’t like to do the motor vehicle stuff (as a police officer.) I liked going to someone’s house and helping them work through issues. I like talking to people. On patrol you only see someone for 10 minutes, and you don’t know the outcome. I like knowing the whole situation, and being there to help parents and kids if they call me looking for advice.
You’d make a good social worker.
I really do enjoy the counseling aspect of my job. Five years from now, the students won’t remember the drama of high school, but they will remember that someone was there who cared.
Officer Poles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.