ARLINGTON — With his easy grin and casual demeanor, one could almost mistake Arlington Police School Resource Officer Seth Kinney for one of the Arlington High School students he’s charged with protecting, but for as much as he likes to laugh with those teens at lunch, the young officer takes his responsibilities to them very seriously, especially in the wake of the school shootings in Connecticut this December.
“Even without something like [the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.], it’s always on the forefront of our minds that a horrible situation could arise,” Kinney said. “It’s one of the reasons why the police department has partnered so closely with the school district to conduct exercises like intruder drills once a month. What that tragedy did was bring the security and safety of the students to everyone’s attention.”
Kinney is a member of the Arlington Emergency Management Response Committee, and uses his role as a liaison between the police department and the school district to foster a rapport with the students and staff of not only AHS, but also all the other schools in the district for which he serves as the SRO.
“There’s almost 1,600 kids at the main high school alone, so it’s not like I know each one, but as the face of the police department, I make sure that I’m approachable and knowledgeable,” Kinney said.
“Seth serves as a resource for students and parents alike who have questions about law enforcement,” AHS Principal Brian Beckley said. “If they’re curious or have concerns, he’s a good place for them to start.”
Kinney also believes that his visibility serves as a deterrent to those who might otherwise choose to harm the students, and he works to provide the school district with a unique perspective about what might be happening on its own campuses.
“You maintain an on-the-ground presence for the same reason that you post patrol cars in an area,” Kinney said. “It makes people very aware that you’re there and protecting those kids. While I’m here, I can also serve as a resource for the school district by spotting things they might not see, and catching things that are suspicious before they become an issue. If I’m familiar with a kid and his attitude suddenly changes, I can recognize it.”
Beckley added that the district maintains a security guard at AHS at all times, to work with Kinney when he’s on site and to ensure that the building remains safe even when Kinney is called away to another school or a regular police patrol.
“We’ve had drills every month for a while now, but I think Sandy Hook brought an added sense of urgency to them,” Beckley said. “Everyone understands now that we need to practice these scenarios like they’re real.”
“You know that real life won’t go exactly like the rehearsed scenario, but it gives you guidelines to work from and makes people extra diligent,” Kinney said. “We’ll be rolling out an active shooter drill this summer.”
Sid Logan, executive director of operations for the Arlington School District, elaborated that the district’s drills cover the possibility of not only school shooters, but also disasters such as earthquakes and fires, to the extent that he and Kinney have joined other district staff members at FEMA conferences in Maryland to prepare for such disasters and tragedies.
“We have always had plans in place for these events, and we hone them constantly in cooperation with local law enforcement,” Logan said. “We work very closely with the Arlington Police Department, and Seth’s presence here is proof of that.”
“The idea is that we’re always evaluating ourselves, not just after emergencies,” said Andrea Conley, public information coordinator for the Arlington School District.