Our School Resource Officer – Vince Morse
Last week at the Ukiah City Council meeting, I was asked about our School Resource Officer (SRO). People wanted to know who’s assigned to this position and what do they do. And, most importantly, is the position impactful to our community? So, I thought I’d reintroduce Officer Vince Morse and his K9 partner, Bugsy, and share what they do to keep our students safe.
Officer Morse is our current School Resource Officer. He has been with the Ukiah Police Department (UPD) since 2006, but this has been his first year as the SRO. Bugsy has been with the department since 2010, and is a fully certified narcotics detection dog. Officer Morse and Bugsy continue a tradition of collaboration between UPD and Ukiah Unified School District (UUSD). The School Resource Officer program has been in existence for more than twenty years!
Typically, the SRO handles close to 1,000 calls for police service a year, or about 5-6 calls per school day. These calls include everything from lost or stolen backpacks and cell phones, to bullying, to fights on campus, and sometimes even more serious crimes.
Officer Morse works closely with school administrators and principles, performing searches based on suspicious activities and discouraging illegal behavior on campus. He makes sure he and Bugsy are highly visible during breaks and lunch periods. They also patrol school neighborhoods before and after school to ensure everyone drives safely near the school. In addition to Ukiah High School, Officer Morse responds to calls at Pomolita Middle School and Ukiah’s public elementary schools.
The SRO program began in 1992 to help reduce gang fights and other unsafe activity on the high school campus. It has continued for so long, in part, because the Ukiah Unified School Board allocated $20,000 towards the additional officer’s salary. The officers who have served as School Resource Officer include Marcus Young, Kevin Devries, Glen Stark, Chris Gordon, Erik Baarts, Andy Porter, and Tim Marsolan.
In 2004, to combat the allure of gang life, the Mendocino County Public Health Department, UPD, and UUSD began participating in a national program called GRIP, which stands for “Gang Resistance is Paramount.” Nine years later, thanks to continued support from the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office, the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, and the Ukiah, Willits, and Fort Bragg Police Departments, GRIP has expanded and nearly all public school students in Mendocino County have access to this excellent resource.
GRIP provides age-appropriate information in the classroom about gang culture and the many negative impacts of gang membership. It also imparts lessons about bullying and peer pressure. In UUSD schools, we provide the annual funding to present GRIP to fifth graders, and our School Resource Officer and other Ukiah police officers help present a portion of the training. By teaching fifth graders before they reach middle school, we help kids recognize and handle new pressures.
During the 2009-10 school year, Ukiah High School experienced a significant increase in marijuana on campus. As a comparison, in the five years leading up to 2009, an average of 58 Ukiah High School students were found to be in possession, under the influence, or have sold marijuana on the school campus each year.
But during the first four months of the 2009-10 school year, 188 students were caught possessing, using, or selling marijuana on the school campus – a 70 percent increase compared to previous years. Breaking down these violations, 70 were committed by freshman, 70 by sophomores, 27 by juniors, and 21 by seniors.
Some of the most notable cases during this period include the investigation of a 14-year-old student selling substantial amounts of marijuana on the school campus, and a number of students involved in the distribution of marijuana brownies that lead to the hospitalization of two students.
In 2010, to help reduce drugs on campus, UPD partnered a narcotics detection dog with the SRO. Since then, drug-related violations on campus have dropped by more than 50 percent.
Along with reducing the prevalence of drugs, Officer Morse also helps keep students safe by educating them about how to be smart online. He attended Yahoo’s digital safety training this winter and was disturbed by the impact technology has had on some families. He described the suicide of a teenage girl with no history of mental illness. She simply didn’t know how to deal with the situation when a sexually explicit photograph of her was shared among boys at her school. “You have to understand the mindset of teens. To them, something like that is overwhelming. They can’t handle it. They’re too young to have perspective,” he said.
After learning about the impacts of social media bullying, Officer Morse returned to the high school campus and teamed up with Vice Principal Chris Francis in January to present “Digital Safety,” a program to educate parents about how to keep their teens and pre-teens safe online.
If you’re interested in learning more about this subject, you can go to www.ukiahpolice.com/hot-topics/cyber-bullying-how-to-protect-your-children. (If you go to ukiahpolice.com and search for bullying, you’ll find this and other articles of interest.)
Officer Morse and school personnel are also trained to deal with school shootings. We hope they never have to use that knowledge, but along with everyone else, we were shocked and dismayed over the senseless and horrific school shooting that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut before Christmas. In events like these, no matter where they are, our first instinct is to protect children from harm. To help plan for events like this, Officer Morse has been working with each elementary school, Pomolita, and Ukiah High School to put emergency plans in place.
We feel extremely lucky to have such a great partnership with UUSD schools. This partnership has allowed us to improve safety on each school campus, and in turn do our part to ensure each student receives the best our schools can offer.
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.