Editor’s Note: This is one of several stories in a series looking at this area’s school resource officers and the work they do to keep local students and schools safe.
Eight years ago Dale Public Schools Resource Officer Brent Vanlandingham and other officers started the Pottawatomie County School Resource Officer Program so local districts would have safety procedures and students could connect to law enforcement.
According to Vanlandingham, being a school resource officer is his primary job and he began the program for smaller school districts in Pottawatomie County.
"Nine years ago my partner and I, Brad Gaylord, were teaching a course to officers on how to respond to school shootings," Vanlandingham said. "So we went from school to school in Pottawatomie and Lincoln County and tried to figure what type of program they had and there weren't any."
The school resource officer explained he and Gaylord developed a program of their own, in which local police would provide an officer to be on school campuses, patrol the area and keep students and staff safe.
"I sat down and started writing a program for that as far as policies and procedures within in schools to be able to try and help them with that," Vanlandingham said.
For the officer, the best aspect of his job and creating the program is being able to develop a relationship between law enforcement and the students.
"By far the kids (are the best part). It was one of those things that the model became the child comes first," Vanlandingham said. "That's the way this works."
The father of two said this sentiment has been the main motivation behind the program and he's been teaching the motto to administrators and districts for the last eight years.
"(We're) trying to be able to help the kids become young adults and productive people in society," Vanlandingham said.
While Dale is his main school district, Vanlandingham said when the program first started he was the only school resource officer and he rotated between several different districts.
"When we first started this I was the only guy for the entire county...I originally picked six schools that were here. Out of those six I was eventually able to hire other people or getting other schools to put funding up for those other officers that are here," Vanlandingham said.
The school resource officer explained the first six districts were Asher, Wanette, Macomb, Earlsboro, Bethel and Dale.
On a day-to-day, Vanlandingham said he's similar to the other resource officers in that he patrols the district, assists with safety concerns and protect the students and teachers of Dale.
However, the officer explained to be a productive school resource officer one has to be able to work with young minds and earn the trust of others.
"This job is more about relationships you have with children, with your staff, with parents and all the other agencies," Vanlandingham said. "This job is more about the relationships that you build and the communication you have to be able to open that door."
According to Vanlandingham, this aspect of the job is a challenge because not everyone is capable of good communication and working with students.
"It's one of those things where you ultimately have to have a love for children to be able to try to understand where they are and help them to move forward," Vanlandingham said.
Before he started the program and was a school resource officer, Vanlandingham said he was a banker for 10 years, trained canines in Narcotics and worked in Narcotics and Homicide for the District Attorney's office.
He said because of the trauma he saw working in Narcotics and Homicide involving children he wanted the program to provide someone who could help children who needed it the most.
"That was so difficult and we (thought) if we could figure out a way to get closer to the kids then we might be able to create a proactive approach to trying to help some of those kids before we had to take them out and into state custody," Vanlandingham said.
Over the last nine years, the father of two said the program has grown and made a difference in schools across the county.
"It started out as just one of me, but it's gotten to where now, in just Pottawatomie County, we have 11 (resource officers) total. So it's grown over the course of time," Vanlandingham said.
The resource officer said he feels the program has developed because schools are realizing school resources officers are useful tools for the district and the students.
"As a school resource officer we are here to help. Once they figured that out...they jumped on board pretty quick," Vanlandingham said.
As time has gone on, Vanlandingham said several of the districts have their own school resource officers, but the smaller communities still require a rotation of officers which he participates in.
In the beginning, Vanlandingham said he wrote grants for funding and just this last year federal money was awarded to schools for security.
"This will be the first year it was totally individually funded by just the schools and federal money," Vanlandingham said.
The grandfather said he's built many relationships with students over the years and he knows they see him as an authority figure they can trust.
"Throughout this entire county (students) have my personal cell phone number in order to be able to contact me at anytime, seven days a week," Vanlandingham said. "By opening that door they know law enforcement is as close as their phone."
As time goes on, Vanlandingham said he hopes the program will continue to grow and more school districts throughout the county will have a school resource officer.
"I would love to see every school to have the ability to have an officer there on a daily basis and if you have the funding you can find the people," Vanlandingham said.