When he walks in the door, they can’t help but get up and run to the man in blue.
Elementary-aged children have special handshakes with the Franklin police officer. They want to see if today is the day he can master a new magic trick, and they want to know what he has been doing away from their classrooms and hallways. He’s got a high-five or a hug for all of them.
But woven into the nearly daily exchanges are Jason Hyneman’s questions. He wants teachers, principals and counselors to alert him to any children who are struggling to behave or have had problems at home. If a child comes to school with a story about an incident at home, Hyneman can get to the bottom of it and help the school respond. He reminds the children to keep their thinking caps on, stay focused and that he is a constant in their lives.
He’s not a dedicated school resource officer for Franklin, but he’s had the training to do the work.
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Across the county, dozens of police officers work as school resource officers, or school police officers, doing a range of activities, from visiting classrooms to providing security at events or responding to fights or reports of drugs in the school. Center Grove operates its own school police department with three full-time officers and a police dog. The city of Greenwood assigns one police officer to Greenwood schools, and the school district pays off-duty officers to work a combined 20 hours per week.
Clark-Pleasant schools hires two off-duty police officers to spend eight hours each day among the district’s eight schools. About a dozen officers from Greenwood, New Whiteland and Whiteland police departments went through the school resource officer training, superintendent Patrick Spray said.
The officers do community policing, Spray said, which means that the goal is for the officers to establish relationships with students so that they can recognize a familiar face if police are ever called to their home.
For the first time this year, the Franklin Police Department assigned an officer, Sgt. Brian Oliver, to work in the schools full-time, and Mayor Steve Barnett is committed to adding to the schools a second officer as soon as possible, and eventually a third officer, when staffing levels allow for it. Next year, Oliver will also have a police dog.
For now, Hyneman is one of several officers not assigned to the schools full-time who go to the buildings when time permits between responding to emergencies or accidents, making connections with students in the hopes of turning the trajectories of some of their lives and, in the long run, preventing crime.
His work during the past two years has made him more in-demand across the city.
More than a year ago, he developed a special bond with a first-grader who had become so unruly that she would throw items, use vulgar language and knock over classroom items during her outbursts. He never coddled her, but made an appearance in her life nearly every day, gave her clear, stern direction and support. Slowly, his work made a difference.
Since then, he was recruited to serve on the board of the Franklin Boys and Girls Club. Now, he goes to the after-school club in Franklin several days a week and often spends time with the same children he sees at area schools. Other teachers have asked him to try to form a connection with other troubled students.
And his progress caught the eye of one of his childhood friends, which has led to more help for Franklin students in need.
Hyneman and Scott Fitch were close friends in elementary and high school. They grew up and went in separate directions after high school. Hyneman went into law enforcement; Fitch went into corrections work. But as it often does, information shared on social media connected the two again.
Fitch, who is the assistant warden for operations at the New Castle Correctional Facility, saw on social media that Hyneman had become a type of school police officer and often spent part of his days in Franklin elementary schools, connecting with all types of students. Some inmates at the correctional facility work in a sewing shop, taking donated materials or old inmate uniforms and turning them into stuffed critters that police officers give to children they meet on emergency calls, such as domestic violence reports. Fitch sent Hyneman 50 stuffed animals, and they were passed out to Franklin children in short order.
The two met for pizza, and Hyneman told him about some of the children in need, such as youngsters with sensory impairments or autism and asked if the inmates could make weighted blankets. The correctional facility knew nothing about the blankets, which provide needed sensory stimulation or can help calm a child. They researched the blankets, the inmates made a sample, and it was sent to Webb Elementary School.
Now, more are being made.
“If asked, we’ll help out all we can,” Fitch said, noting the inmates received a letter of thanks from school superintendent David Clendening. “It’s a way for our offenders to give back.”
The prison houses 3,100 men in a medium-security facility managed by the Geo Group, which has a contract with the Indiana Department of Correction. Some of the men work in the sewing shop five days a week, repairing offender uniforms or making quilts. They used rice and researched how heavy the weighted blankets should be, and this spring made sample weighted lap pads for students to use in the classroom.
“I certainly hope this is something that we can continue,” Fitch said, noting that the blankets and lap pads are free to the school and offenders get to hear the stories about how they are giving back by helping a child.
Hyneman tries to work beyond the classroom to break down barriers that the children face, and helping get resources for children with behavioral disabilities is an example. But he is also called to homes rocked by domestic violence or other troubles and sees some of the same children. Seeing a face they recognize helps put the children at ease. Back in the classroom, he reminds children that no matter what is going on at home, they can focus and be safe at school.
This spring, a school counselor called him because a child said that police had been at his home. Hyneman was able to look into the incident and help the school determine if it needed to take any other action on the child’s behalf.
A child told him about his dad breaking doors at home, and Hyneman reached out to the parents to have a discussion about the impact on the child and learned behaviors. In some cases, they rebut the intervention. Other times, he can see some realization in their eyes. His approach is not confrontational, but rather works to be a positive, welcomed influence.
His end goal is to help children who lack guidance overcome their obstacles and the odds they face if a parent has had criminal or other problems. But he doesn’t have all the answers. Once, a child told him that his father didn’t want him anymore, and offered details that backed up the story. The situation still bothers him.
“What do you say to that?” Hyneman said.
Want to donate?
You can donate materials to help inmates at the New Castle Correctional Facility make stuffed animals or weighted blankets for Franklin school children.
What is needed: Material, thread, other sewing supplies and uncooked rice
How: Contact the New Castle Correctional Facility at (765) 593-0111.
Center Grove Schools: Has its own police department, consisting of three full-time officers and one police dog.
Clark-Pleasant Schools: Pays two off-duty police officers, from a pool of about a dozen trained school resource officers, to work among the schools every day.
Franklin Schools: Has one full-time Franklin police officer assigned to the schools, with plans to increase to two or three officers in the coming years
Greenwood Schools: Has one full-time Greenwood police officer assigned to the schools, and supplements with 20 hours per week from off-duty police officers paid with school funds
Indian Creek Schools: Does not have school resource officers. Coordinates with local law enforcement officials when issues arise during the school day or at events.
Source: Area school districts and police departments