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Officer Bob

Editor’s note: The following story was written after reporter Justine Frederiksen observed Port Orchard Police Officer Bob MacFann for a day while he performed his duties as school resource officer for the South Kitsap School District. No names or descriptions of juveniles have been included, and the times of incidents and interviews are approximated.

If Energizer ever decides to go blue for its next mascot, Officer Bob MacFann would make a good model.

Sure, he carries a gun instead of a drum, but he has all the staying power — and then some — of that fuzzy pink bunny.

As the Port Orchard Police Department’s school resource officer, MacFann’s beat covers the 15 buildings and approximately 10,500 students in the South Kitsap School District. His shift begins before any of the students are at their desks and usually doesn’t end until long after the kids have gone home.

On a typical day, MacFann and his fellow school resource officer, Kitsap County Deputy David Dial, work together to handle problems at each of the district’s 17 schools, blurring the lines between city and county territory for more efficient and effective coverage.

However, on a recent Tuesday, Dial was off-duty and MacFann handled all incident calls himself. Here is what his day was like:

• 9 a.m. MacFann’s cell phone won’t stop ringing.

He is pulling into the parking lot at Cedar Heights Junior High, where officials caught a student trying to sell cigarettes. He parks his car and barely gets out before the tiny phone clipped to his right shoulder shakes.

“Officer MacFann,” he says. It’s East Port Orchard Elementary School, where officials are concerned about a suspicious car parked nearby.

He writes down the license plate number and taps into CenCom, the county’s emergency dispatch center, using the radio handset clipped to his chest near his mouth. With a small speaker buried in his left ear to relay CenCom’s response, MacFann resembles a nearly hands-free, human communication tower.

Call completed, MacFann turns his attention back to Dean of Students John

Larkin to hear how the cigarettes were found. Just a few minutes later, however, the phone beckons again.

“Officer MacFann.” It’s the principal of Marcus Whitman Junior High. They’ve found a bomb threat, written on a note and left near the front desk.

9:30 a.m. MacFann arrives at Marcus Whitman, and for nearly an hour discusses the credibility of the bomb threat with school officials and the district’s Director of School Administration Frank Sullivan.

Sullivan said the district follows a step-by-step procedure when confronted with potential bombs and other threats.

“We have a list of criteria and other signs that we look for,” Sullivan said, explaining that where, when and how a note was left is all carefully considered. The building is quickly inspected, and teachers — who Sullivan said are the best barometer of risk — are alerted.

“Just as you know what belongs and doesn’t belong in your house, teachers immediately know what doesn’t belong, or if something odd is going on, in their classroom,” Sullivan said.

The potential hazard is then weighed against the disruption of stopping classes and sending kids outside, or locking down the school.

Often, MacFann said, kids will leave notes in the hopes of being let outside, or maybe either skipping a test or an entire school day.

“Well, it is awfully nice out,” he said, explaining that it takes almost a sixth sense to separate the rare real threat from the pile of fakes.

“But all threats are a big deal now,” MacFann said. “Twenty years ago, it might have been, ‘Who cares?’ But we don’t have that luxury anymore. Each incident is unique, and I don’t want to be proven wrong that one day it’s real.”

Ultimately, however, MacFann said the district decides how to respond in such situations.

Although this time the threat is deemed minimal, Sullivan said the district will still notify parents by sending a letter home to explain why a police officer was at the school, and how officials determined it was best to either halt classes or safe to stay open.

Before MacFann clears Marcus Whitman, calls to his cell phone have added two more stops to his list —a school counselor reporting a student potentially being physically abused at home, and an official at Orchard Heights Elementary reporting an out-of-control student.

10:25 a.m. MacFann leaves Marcus Whitman and heads over to Orchard Heights.

The 12-year-old boy is waiting quietly in a small room, finally calm after launching into a fit of rage where he screamed obscenities at his teacher, was physically aggressive toward her and other staff, and slammed into a door hard enough to cause damage.

The staff said this wasn’t the first time the student acted out, and they hoped a stern talk from MacFann would make a stronger impression than anything they have tried — and he ignored — in the past.

MacFann begins to talk to the boy, who is sullen and uncooperative. Once or twice, MacFann feels he might be making progress in reaching him, but then the boy withdraws and becomes uncommunicative again.

In times like these, MacFann’s job is a complicated mix of three roles: police officer, psychologist and parent — and he said he only feels qualified for the first. But he’s had a lot of on-the-job training the past four years.

“When you talk to kids, be straight with them,” he said. “Don’t lie. They can tell when you’re lying. And don’t threaten them. Threats don’t work.”

He decides not to arrest the boy, but the school suspends the student for the rest of that day and the next. MacFann stays a bit longer to make sure there are no more problems while the school waits for the boy’s foster mother to pick him up.

MacFann doesn’t arrest all, or even a majority, of the kids he talks to. And even when he does arrest a kid, he doesn’t necessarily believe he or she is “bad.”

“Kids are a product of their environment,” he said. “Every so often, you get that kid who is just bad. No matter what their parents do, they’re going to be bad. But most of the time, kids do what they’ve learned at home.”

The people that worry him, he said, are usually the parents. Some of them are downright disturbing, and some of them just don’t seem to want to be parents, he said.

“If parents show interest, that kid is going to succeed,” MacFann said.

“Unfortunately, the only time a lot of parents show interest is when their kids get into trouble.”

MacFann gave a few reasons why parents might not be involved as much as they should be in their kids’ lives. These days, many don’t have a lot of time to spend with their kids. Or many want to be their kid’s friend, rather than a parent, which is a big mistake, he said.

“Be your kid’s best friend by being a parent,” he said. “Sometimes, I feel like a lot of parents treat their kids like puppies. They’re cute until they grow up, and then they become a headache, and they don’t want to deal with them anymore.”

Schools are expected to take on more and more of the burden of not only teaching children how to read and write, but how to be decent, well-adjusted people, MacFann said.

“Teachers have the most underpaid, under-appreciated job out there,” MacFann said. “They’re hired to educate our kids — not to raise them.”

Back in his car, MacFann barely sits down before his phone shakes again.

“Officer MacFann.” It is Cedar Heights, where he is already headed to talk to the boy with cigarettes. Now there has been an assault.

With one swipe of his hand, he returns the phone to its clip, puts the car in gear, then grabs his dashboard radio to tell CenCom he’s en route.

“All in a day,” he says, turning the steering wheel.

11:55 a.m. On his way to Cedar Heights, MacFann pulls into the parking lot of Hi-Joy Bowl on Mile Hill Drive where a group of young men are standing around, talking. He rolls down the window and they approach his car.

“Hey, what are you guys up to today?” he asks. “Why aren’t you in school?”

“We graduated, Officer Bob,” the nearest guy says. “Last year.”

They all share a laugh and MacFann drives off.

“Man, maybe I’ve been doing this too long,” he says, then explains that he tries to talk to kids both in and out of school as much as possible. Maybe if he gets to know them before they get into trouble, he said, he won’t have to arrest them.

“Most of my job is intervention,” he said. “I’m here as a resource — to offer

help and answer questions.”

MacFann said he sees his job as an opportunity to straighten out kids

who have just started on the wrong path. If he catches them now, and scares some sense into them, maybe they will change what they’re doing.

“If I end up helping just one kid, it will all be worth it,” he said. “Kids that I’ve arrested come in and talk to me and tell me, ‘Thanks, Officer Bob, for arresting me. If you hadn’t, I don’t think I would have straightened up.”

Along the way, he also hopes to change some of their perceptions of

cops.

“I want to de-mystify this profession, and let them know we’re human, and

we’re approachable,” he said. “We’re not really these guys who go out and

harass juveniles.”

In fact, MacFann said, the sooner he interacts with the kids, the better.

Often, by the time MacFann arrests kids in junior high or high school, their criminal behavior patterns are too deeply ingrained to change, he said.

“I think if we could get to the kids when they are still in elementary school, and show them the right way to handle things and the right decisions to make, that would be the way to do it,” he said. “We all make mistakes, and we all do stupid things. The important thing is to learn from them.”

Before he gets to Cedar Heights, his cell phone rings again. It’s Marcus Whitman, where a teacher found marijuana on a student.

He says to hold onto the drugs and he’ll be back to pick them up. Right now, he needs to get to Cedar Heights.

12:10 p.m. For most people it is lunchtime, but MacFann has not even

stopped to use the restroom, let alone sit and eat.

He is back at Cedar Heights, talking to a boy who was giving out, and possibly planning to sell, his grandmother’s cigarettes at school. When he’s done with him, he’ll question several girls involved in a fight that broke out in the middle of the commons during lunch.

The boy admits he made a bad choice, and tells MacFann he won’t do it again. MacFann believes him, and thinks he has learned his lesson.

He moves on to deal with the fight, talking first to Principal Pat Green before interviewing the students. Green tells him there were at least three girls involved, one who shoved and punched another girl in front of the entire lunch crowd, and a third who knew about the impending fight and “fed the flames,” Green said.

The incident is indicative of what she called the “hissing and spitting” that goes on between kids — especially in junior high, when hormones hit and cliques form.

“There’s going to be problems with this age,” Green said. “We just try to stay consistent with our discipline.”

At least now schools can call MacFann, she said. Before, Green said, if there were problems, “We just dealt with them ourselves.”

And if they couldn’t?

“We called 911 and waited,” she said, and many times the school day would be over, with the staff and kids long gone, before an officer could respond.

After interviewing two witnesses and the victim, MacFann talks to the 13-year-old accused assaulter. Still spitting venom and unapologetic, she becomes MacFann’s first arrest of the day.

Before he leads her out to the car, his phone shakes yet again.

“Officer MacFann.” It’s the principal of Orchard Heights — there has been another assault.

2 p.m. MacFann clears the Kitsap County Juvenile Detention Center and drives back to Orchard Heights, where another assault was reported.

He parks at the school and walks to the office, passing a group of first-graders on his way.

One boy turns and waves. “Hi, Mister Officer Man,” he says with a smile, and MacFann returns his wave and smiles back.

“Young kids like that are the best,” he said. “To them, you represent something good. They’ve haven’t had any bad experiences yet.”

Inside, MacFann talks with Principal Natalie Reed and Assistant Principal Darek Grant, who tell him an 8-year-old student assaulted both of them after assaulting three students at recess.

The boy’s foster mother then arrives, telling MacFann he attacks her on a regular basis, and shows him several bruises on both arms. After interviewing the second-grader, MacFann makes his second arrest of the day.

He puts his hand on the boy’s back and leads him to his car before putting him in handcuffs. As he heads back to the detention center, MacFann admits having to arrest an 8-year-old is unsettling.

“That bothers me,” he said, motioning to the small head, hanging down yet still defiant, in his backseat. “That concerns me.”

But, MacFann said, he has to believe arresting him will affect positive change.

“If we don’t address violent behavior now, it will get worse,” he said. “This is not punishment — this is holding them accountable. When you’re 18, and you go to jail — that’s punishment.”

What he is sure makes a difference, however, is his and Dial’s work, and the school resource officer program in general.

“When I started, CenCom was getting at least one 911 call a day at the high school alone,” he said. Now, he said, it’s maybe once a week.

But he does wish he could invest more time in education and intervention, instead of spending so much of it on paperwork.

“When I signed up for this, I thought I’d be spending most of my time helping kids,” he said. “I never dreamed I’d spend so much time writing reports.”

MacFann said he must write a report for each arrest today. Usually at least two or three pages, the reports must be accurate, and they must be finished tonight to be ready for court the next day.

Other than the paperwork, MacFann said the worst part of his job is discovering the grim reality of many kids’ lives. He sees firsthand what they have to overcome, yet knows there’s little he can do.

“That’s my heartache, knowing that some of these kids come to school, and that’s the only hot meal they’ll get all day, and the only time they’ll talk to a caring, able adult,” he said. “I wish I could tell them, ‘the world is going to treat you better. It’s not always going to be like this.” But I can’t guarantee that.”

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