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School resource officers make students feel safer

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POSTED March 9, 2013 1:38 a.m.

Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion stood in front of 60 third graders Tuesday morning and talked about his uniform.

He talked about the standard dark blue or black combination that most people see, and the belt – although his was light since it wasn’t full – that circled his waist and served as the anchor of the impeccably-pressed getup.

But he also talked about his gun.

“Why do I carry this?” he asked the class.

The answers varied.

But the general consensus was to protect not only himself but everybody in the classroom. It is something that carried a heavy connotation given everything that has transpired in the course of time that Obligacion has been at the helm of the Manteca Police Department.

The theater shooting in Aurora. The mall shooting in Clackamas. The massacre at Newtown.

And while the national debate over gun control rages, Obligacion and the Manteca City Council have taken steps to make students feel safer while they’re in school. Reserve police serving as School Resource Officers periodically visit elementary school campuses to provide a presence. The program is made possible by donations from community organizations.

“It’s important to me that students are comfortable in school and in a learning environment and they’re not afraid that something’s going to happen,” he said. “If they have a fear that’s something that’s going to happen then that makes it hard for those students to concentrate.

“But if having an officer there takes the edge off a little bit, and they realize that they’ll be okay, then we’ve done what we set out to do. We want them to be able to learn – education is very important.”

The department has turned to reserve officers to fill the posts so as to not disrupt the current patrol schedule or create overtime situations. No set schedule exists for the officers. They stop in at schools to make sure that everything is going okay before moving on to another. They pass out stickers to students while they’re on campus.

And according to Obligacion, it was one of those stickers that showed him that the program is working.

While out at lunch with another officer, he said he overheard a girl at a nearby table mention police but shrugged it off and went back to eating. He could tell that the conversation at that table continued, and when somebody else went to sit at the nearby table, he walked up to try and give the girl a sticker.

“She just pointed to the one that she had on under her jacket and said that the police had already been to her school,” he said. “I could tell that she felt comfortable. That’s what we want.”

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