Dinuba schools, police partner to achieve student betterment

Dinuba High School main entrance from E. Kern St.(Kenny Goodman)

School Resource Officers from Dinuba Police Department focus on student safety as well as relationship building at Dinuba school sites

DINUBA – The partnership between Dinuba Unified School District and the Dinuba Police Department will continue into the 2023-24 school year to ensure student safety and upstanding development.

Dinuba City Council approved the School Resource Officer (SRO) agreement at its meeting Tuesday, June 27, allowing for two police officers to continue their presence in Dinuba schools. The SRO program, which began in 1999, aims to provide the district with intervention, enforcement, prevention, counseling and training services.

“We have a great working relationship with Dinuba Unified,” Dinuba school resource officer Jorge Gonzalez said. “We want the community to know that Dinuba Unified and the police department are doing everything we can to keep the students safe; they’re our biggest priority.”

Gonzalez and fellow SRO Karla Alvarez cover the Dinuba schools, working with about 6,600 students. One SRO is assigned to the Dinuba High School campus on a shared basis with the Sierra Vista campus and the other is assigned to the Washington Intermediate School campus. According to the SRO agreement, the SROs should maintain “the highest level of visibility possible” on their primary campus.

The partnership between Dinuba Unified School District (DUSD) and the city is intended to “improve the safety, behavior, attendance and grades of the students on the campuses as measured by a decrease in suspensions, student expulsions, illegal offenses and juvenile crime,” according to the agreement.

As part of the agreement, DUSD pays the police department for 50% of the SRO costs, including salary, benefits, training and vehicle maintenance. DUSD’s portion for the 2023-24 school year will be just under $150,000.

Gonzalez said that while the primary role of an SRO is to keep the students safe, they also focus on conflict resolution and building relationships with students.

“We try to serve as positive role models, and we believe that in order to prevent juvenile delinquency, it’s all about positive relationships with the students,” Gonzalez said.

The SROs follow a “triad model,” where they first aim to act as informal counselors and teachers for the students before having to step in as law enforcement officers. When it comes to conflict resolution, one of the biggest things the SROs focus on is restorative justice.

Gonzalez said that when students have wronged each other, he tries to restore their relationships and prevent further hostile incidents. They’ll work to “improve the relationship or at least talk about the incident or talk about what happened,” Gonzalez said.

“They’re kids, and they’re still learning,” he said. “They’re learning how to cope and interact with each other. A lot of times it’s a misunderstanding between them.”

The district is also sending its SROs to the Safe Schools Conference in Garden Grove, California, this July. There, they’ll receive training on bullying and cyberbullying — which Gonzalez said is a big issue in DUSD — and talk about mental health, dropout prevention, drug trends and gang prevention.

Gonzalez said they will also receive training from the FBI on threat assessments, looking at how to approach situations like school shootings and resolve them quickly.

“That’s going to be one of the key things about this conference,” Gonzalez said. “When we come back, we plan on doing presentations to school staff and students on what we learned.”

For Gonzalez, who is going into his fourth year as a SRO, seeing the students succeed is the best part of the job. He said that before coming to Dinuba, he worked in the homicide unit for his previous agency, and many of his suspects and victims were juveniles.

“I wanted a chance to work with the youth, so if I can help someone out … that’s the whole reason I’m doing this,” Gonzalez said.

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