Being born and raised “in a very religious family” and eventually graduating in biblical studies and theology with a minor in communications, it’s no surprise that 31-year-old Garrett Gergins is “passionate about religion.”
But he’s also passionate about his current position: School Resource Officer (SRO) with the Newport Beach Police Department.
Without a uniform, Gergins looks about as young as most seniors at Newport Harbor High School, where he is stationed four days a week.
Gergins began his career in law enforcement with the Pasadena PD, but moved three years ago to Newport. Although he found Patrol “enjoyable”, he found the SRO to be both enjoyable and “definitely different”.
Where patrol is “broad policing,” Gergins said, “the SRO focuses on school and juvenile delinquency issues.” He and the other two OARs in the department work closely with social workers, as well as administrators, teachers and cooperative parents. His pastoral calm seems ideal for an environment where raging hormones often dictate questionable behaviors and decisions.
On a day-to-day basis, Gergins interacts with a daily student/staff population exceeding 2,000 during the school year, not to mention the myriad visitors who have dates on campus, or those random vagrants who just seem to materialize on the grounds of this “open campus”. .”
After a year and a half (largely affected by Covid restrictions), Gergins is now getting to know or recognize all the students. And many of them recognize it, even coming to speak, he said.
The officer identifies his primary responsibility as the “overall safety of students and staff, as well as support as needed for disciplinary matters.” He also views his work as one of education, particularly in the areas of drugs, other negative behaviors and internet safety.”
Being an SRO is both reactive and proactive. “As an SRO, I want to actively research safety issues, find ways to reach kids who might be struggling, and hope to prevent something bad from happening,” Gergins explained.
Like any profession, especially in police work, there are many daily challenges. “No two situations are the same, and there’s no black and white way to handle a situation,” Gergins said. “We have to find a solution for every child, for every scenario.”
A minority of students need a little more attention than others — there are always problem children. Gergins supports the team approach to finding solutions to unique problems, a team made up of police officers, administrators, teachers, social workers, psychologists and sometimes parents.
And, as in society in general, there are always problems.
“Right now we’re seeing a lot of vaping (nicotine and cannabis THD) both on and off campus,” Gergins said. Kids leave campus to inhale, while some will sneak it around campus whenever possible.
Nationally, the Internet presents dangers that law enforcement is constantly concerned about.
“Be smart online,” stresses Gergins. “Children simply cannot imagine not being on social media. There is a delicate balance between freedom of expression and inappropriateness, both in receiving and transmitting messages” which include communications such as “threats, explicit content, sexual exposure and sexual predation”.
Other concentrations of ORS include stopping bicycle theft, preparing for any major event including natural disasters, and/or someone on campus with a weapon.
Currently, the PD is working with sworn personnel on active shooter response training at all city campuses. In this case, familiarity creates a greater chance of success.
Although threats are rare, Newport Harbor has recently been the subject of threats from a troubled boy against the school principal and teachers. The PD learned this through an online service at school called Text Tips, used by both students and teachers. Due to the preventive action of the PD, the threats were not heeded.
Communications have proven to be preventive. In fact, verbal communications is the “weapon” Gergins prefers to use when necessary to “disarm” calmly and peacefully.
The PD now subscribes to a new national program called the Standard Response Protocol, “a uniform, planned and practiced response to any potential incident that forms the foundation of a safe school, from crime to weather events.”
According to Gergins, “I’m not on campus to get students in trouble. My job is to empower students to have a good experience with law enforcement and to be someone who is there to support them and encourage them to succeed.
But to achieve this vision, Gergins admits that “I need a lot of patience”.