A SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER “HOW TO”
Officer Joe Comegna loves to be able to give kids what they need for the future. He is also a Scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts of America and coaches lacrosse.
My whole family are police officers—my two younger brothers, my dad and my uncle. I wanted to serve my community, help people out,” said Officer Joe Comegna as we began our interview with him. A School Resource Officer (SRO) in the Baltimore County Police Department in Maryland, Comegna is a sworn officer charged with creating a safe learning environment for children and for drug education in schools. Hundreds of SROs in the US and other countries use the Truth About Drugs program in their lessons.
But SROs are often restricted in the amount of time they’re given, as teachers with an already full curriculum can only spare so much time.
So how does he do it? Comegna got smart. “Because I know they have a drug unit in the health class, the teacher and I teamed up,” says Comegna. “I went to him and said, ‘Look, this is probably the most logical place to put this.’” The health teacher gave him two 90-minute periods, which sounds like a lot, but it’s not when you try to distill the 19-hour Truth About Drugs curriculum without losing anything essential.
“I get 180 minutes and the first year I kind of overwhelmed myself trying to get the whole program in. I just couldn’t do it.”
He decided to approach it “like a teacher would approach it” by cutting the program down to what is most relevant to the youth he was teaching. He found out which drugs were most accessible at that school and, where he used to start with marijuana and alcohol, after surveying, he changed to starting with prescription drugs, opioids and heroin and then coming back to marijuana, alcohol and then into synthetics.
“I change it every year to stay up with current trends in our community. It is an ambitious program.”
He relies heavily on the “They Said/They Lied” PSAs and the Real People, Real Stories documentary film.
“I like to play the PSAs, because a lot of those are the shock factor, especially the ones on synthetic drugs,” he says. And of the documentary he says, “The kids nowadays don’t want some guy standing in front of them talking for 90 minutes. The DVDs free them from that and give them a real-world experience.”
He starts his presentations by playing the “Introduction” of the documentary followed by two PSAs back-to-back: “One Hit” and “Just Once.” He then shares what he has witnessed as a police officer with drugs on the street: “It’s all about money, guys selling it don’t care. You’re going to hear that in this video, just pay attention and learn something.”
“That’s what’s good about working with kids. You can change the outcome—you can change the outcome in that person’s life.”
He then dives into the most prevalent drug, playing the PSA for opioids (“Painkillers”) and the documentary chapter and sharing his own experience in the field, then getting questions from the class.
He continues this pattern with each drug in turn. “In that 180 minutes, I’m usually able to get through five or six of the segments and the PSAs, so you’re looking at 7 or 8 videos each time I do it.
“It is great to be able to give the kids what they need for the future. As a police officer, you are usually at the end of the game with people. But with kids, you can start from the beginning.
“When I saw the post surveys, I was amazed at how much they paid attention. Some of them fill up the whole survey and they’re writing in the margins and they’re writing on the top. That’s what’s good about working with kids. You can change the outcome—you can change the outcome in that person’s life.”
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