San Bernardino School Police

District bigger, not department
Melissa Pinion-Whitt, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/26/2010 07:03:57 AM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – Gang and tagging crew insignias scrawled on paper and notebooks sat on a desk in the San Bernardino High School police office. Red and blue bandannas hung out of a black backpack.

Nearby, a campus security officer photographed a green pen cap a student had been using as a carrying case for marijuana.

“They’re smart. They’ll carry a dozen different pens and one of them will have marijuana,” said San Bernardino City Unified School District police Detective Rocky Dobson.

It’s a side of life officers hope students won’t embrace, but district police officers keep a close eye on the portion who do.

“For the most part, these are good kids,” Dobson said.

The district Police Department covers the largest district in the Inland Empire and the seventh-largest in the state.

The department’s jurisdiction spreads across 90 square miles, including eight high schools, 10 middle schools and 48 elementary schools.

Like their city police counterparts, the 18 sworn officers assigned to the campuses are armed, make arrests and conduct investigations that can take them out of their jurisdictions. They encounter some of the same crimes committed by adults such as assaults, robberies and attempted murders.

But despite the growth of the district, the department has remained the same size in the last decade. Its graveyard-shift officers have been moved to daytime to compensate. Police this year even faced the possibility of laying off five officers due to the economy.

The San Bernardino School Police Officer’s Association instead agreed in August to have officers take 22 furlough days during the next three years.

That still presents a challenge for the department, which already has two positions vacant.

“It has a direct impact on our ability to respond to priority calls,” said Eric Vetere, vice president of the San Bernardino School Police Officers Association.

District officials say officers will take furlough days during slow periods such as holiday breaks.

But officers don’t have much time to think about the manpower shortage because of the number of students they’re trying to keep safe. Some officers say they have grown used to doing more with less.

“It’s been gradual,” said Campus Security Officer Russell Kinser. “We’re kind of acclimated. But when someone calls off, you definitely notice the difference.”

Dobson came to the department in 1996 and has been in school district law enforcement ever since.

He’s encountered a variety of crimes committed by students, staff and parents in that time. Dobson maintains that most of the major trouble comes down to 1 percent of the student population.

“They’re not there for an education,” he said. “They’re just there to prey upon kids who go to school there or anybody else they can find.”

Crimes aren’t limited to the high schools.

On Tuesday, Dobson drove to Redlands, not in search of a student, but a janitor who may have seen the theft of a laptop at Bradley Elementary School.

He handed the man what officers call a “six pack” or a set of six photographs, including the person suspected of the crime.

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