A Sacred Trust

If you missed the Jeffco Schools enewsletter for parents, you missed a pretty cool story about our Safety, Security, and Emergency Management Department. Check out the video and read the article written by Jeffco Schools below the video.

Our favorite quote – “We have a responsibility to protect 86,000 students and more than 14,000 employees. When you think of Jeffco, it’s really a city unto itself of about 115,000 to 120,000 people,” explained McDonald. “I think our primary responsibility, our greatest resource is our kids. So for us this really is a sacred trust.”

 

A Sacred Trust: Safety, Security & Emergency Management

For Officer Elias Zermeno, the start of a new patrol shift brings a range of possibilities, from routine to heart-pounding. Officer Zermeno is part of a team at Jeffco Public Schools’ Safety Security & Emergency Management team; a force comprised of 17 officers, with a combined 100 years of experience in law enforcement. A little over a year into the job, Officer Zermeno is a familiar presence at the schools on his watch, including Lumberg Elementary.

“Once they’ve seen you around, if they don’t know your name, at least they know your face and the staff warms up to you quite a bit,” explained Zermeno. “Students, especially the younger kids, they love to see you, they love to come say ‘hi,’ give you a high five, [and] they ask for stickers.”

Officer Zermeno’s path to Jeffco included a decade as a patrol officer in the San Francisco area, and another eight years as a Federal Reserve law enforcement officer in Denver.

“I’m a firm believer that we represent our department. So you have to be professional. You’re conducting yourself in a manner that you’re approachable. People know that they can contact you if they have an issue or problem,” said Zermeno.

The department’s executive director, John McDonald, and patrol manager, Darrel Smith, help oversee the effort of keeping Jeffco students and staff safe. This includes operations at the department’s dispatch center which handles 46,000 calls a year. It is a massive and never-ending mission.

“We have a responsibility to protect 86,000 students and more than 14,000 employees. When you think of Jeffco, it’s really a city unto itself of about 115,000 to 120,000 people,” explained McDonald. “I think our primary responsibility, our greatest resource is our kids. So for us this really is a sacred trust.”

The department’s campus supervisors are an integral part of keeping that trust. So are the close relationships with school resource officers, who are provided as part of a longstanding partnership Jeffco shares with local law enforcement. At the core of all of the department’s work, however, is regular training at the department’s Frank DeAngelis Center for Community Safety, where every possible scenario is covered.

“Training is of the utmost importance to us and our team. What we’ve done is really try and enhance and bulk up our team to get the first-responder mentality and thought process,” explained Smith. “It comes together in a perfect match to where we’re able to turn into first-responders.”

Jeffco Safety, Security & Emergency Management is a 24/7 operation. For Officer Nicholas Jensen, whose background includes military service, that means working the swing shift.
“It’s kind of a really neat shift compared to the other ones, because I get all the missing child [reports] because I start at noon. So any student that goes missing, I’m probably going to be on one of those calls, especially on the weekends, Friday nights, Saturday nights…so those are pretty unique to this shift,” said Jensen.

Deciding how best to respond to any given situation in a geographic area as widespread as Jeffco Public Schools can be a delicate balancing act.

“Quite honestly, like law enforcement, we have to prioritize,” explained Smith. “We have to look at it and say which incident has a higher priority and we really work hard with our team, saying, ‘all right this one has priority and work on it from that way.’”

For Officer Jensen, and the others in patrol, those priorities can also include working with Jeffco student suicide assessment experts to help them respond to students in crisis. There have already been 400 of those assessments since the start of the school year.

“It’s really becoming a challenge. There’s more pressure on our kids today and the risks are growing,” said McDonald.

The department also helps investigate a wide range of threats. Keeping the sacred trust puts a lot of demands on these officers, both day and night, and that includes the many people behind the scenes.

“We really have tried to build a program that supports the educational level of our district. If our kids feel safer in school, they’re a better learner. If they’re a better learner, they have higher test scores and higher graduation rates,” said McDonald.

“Parents bring their kids to school, and I’m going to make sure that they’re okay. That they’re fine at the end of the day,” said Zermeno.

“In a sense, what we do is the greatest support there can be,” added McDonald.

See the JPS-TV version of this story here.