One of the first things police Officer Joe Clemmons did as the School City of Hobart’s new public school resource officer was to set up a Facebook.com account.
“That’s what kids are using these days,” Clemmons said.
Resource officers at schools in communities such as Crown Point and Merrillville haven’t created job-related Facebook pages. But that doesn’t mean officials aren’t tuned in to what students are involved in, such as social networking websites.
Brad Best, director of security for Merrillville Community School Corp., said students’ Facebook use is bringing more issues to the table for schools.
“The main problem we see is kids throwing empty threats back and forth on Facebook,” Best said. “They don’t realize the consequences.”
Clemmons, a nine-year police veteran, said Hobart school administrators were sold on the idea of his opening a Facebook account when he brought it up during his interview.
In addition to posting information on the school resource officer site, Clemmons also hopes to receive feedback from students.
“If they see any suspicious activity, they can send me an email. … It’s an accessibility issue, and I want kids to contact me if they need something,” Clemmons said.
Students and parents have linked to Clemmons’ page.
“They add me. It’s their choice,” he said.
Best said Merrillville might be looking at the possibility of starting up a school resource officer account.
“It’s something we’d like to explore,” he said. “It could be a good idea, but there’s pros and cons.”
That doesn’t mean Merrillville school district and police officials aren’t monitoring incidents related to the Internet.
Earlier this year, two Merrillville district students were charged with disorderly conduct in Lake County Juvenile Court after a videotape of two girls fighting off campus was posted on YouTube.com.
Two adults, who were shown encouraging the girls to fight, also were charged.
Milan Damjanovich, the director of safety and security for Crown Point Community School Corp., agreed with Merrillville schools’ caution toward Facebook.
“Crown Point doesn’t have a Facebook website,” he said. “It could be a negative. All it takes is one misinterpretation.”
He believes texting and Facebook use have led to negative outcomes.
“It’s easy to type things in,” Damjanovich said. “There is no face-to-face contact.”
Negative behavior includes not only taunting between students but other problems such as bullying and even the posting of false information.
Crown Point’s school resource officer doesn’t have a Facebook account, but there are emergency numbers and an e-mail address students can use to leave tips.
Although computer use has prompted more problems for schools, old problems such as drug use still remain, Damjanovich said.
“They’ll never go away,” Damjanovich said.
Damjanovich, Crown Point’s school resource officer since 1999, said schools are a microcosm of society.
“You’re not being a kiddie cop. You’re working. Believing it’s not a busy job is a false perception,” Damjanovich said.
Clemmons, new to the job, agreed. And he doesn’t just monitor students by computer.
Clemmons walks through the schools, he attends weekend sporting events, and he even monitors students while working security at the mall.
“The biggest thing is to be accessible,” Clemmons said.