Brad Gagon knew he wanted to be a police officer from the time he was a student at West Woods Elementary but didn’t realize he wanted to be a School Resource Officer until his high school years at …
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Change.org is a for-profit petition website with 400 million users. In 2019, the platform reported that it had 329,495,413 users and garnered 673,668,876 signatures on petitions.
School Resource Officers
Brad Gagon knew he wanted to be a police officer from the time he was a student at West Woods Elementary but didn’t realize he wanted to be a School Resource Officer until his high school years at Ralston Valley.
At Ralston Valley, Gagon admired the school’s genial SRO, John Zubrinic, who could often be found smiling and talking to students in the halls, attending games, or performing in pep rally skits. Gagon joined the Arvada Police Explorer program in 2002, when he was 16, and joined the force as a patrol officer in 2014.
Gagon and Zubrinic are now colleagues at the Arvada Police Department, where Gagon serves as Arvada West’s SRO and Zubrinic occupies the same role at Ralston Valley.
SROs serve as liaisons between the police department, schools, and the communities around them. Arvada has nine SROs assigned to four middle schools, including Arvada K-8, Three Creeks, North Arvada and Oberon; four high schools, including Arvada High School, Arvada West, Ralston Valley and Pomona; while an additional SRO floats between local elementary schools.
In addition to their official responsibilities, which involve speaking at Parent Teacher Association meetings, educating students on topics including internet safety and handling crisis situations, SROs are also expected to serve as unofficial counselors to the students they serve.
Gagon said Zubrinic’s consistent presence and positive demeanor made an impression on him during his high school years.
“What stood out to me is (Zubrinic) was always out in the halls,” said Gagon, “smiling and talking to kids. We’d go to games and he was always there — for me his interactions with other students really made an impact. He did skits with the head of the security team that were pretty funny.”
Zubrinic remembered Gagon expressing an interest in his position.
“I remember Brad (Gagon),” said Zubrinic. “I remember him coming up, being in Explorers, asking questions. There were a lot of kids at Ralston Valley at that time, but I remember him showing interest.”
Recently, Gagon and Zubrinic have dealt with a number of potentially dire situations.
On April 19, Ralston Valley was the subject of multiple threats received through Colorado’s Safe2Tell anonymous reporting system, causing the school to go into a lockout. More threats came in on April 20, resulting in another lockout, before a female juvenile suspect was arrested on the school’s campus later that afternoon.
Zubrinic responded immediately after receiving the threats, coordinating with Arvada Police, Jefferson County R-1 security officers, and school administrators to get backup to the school as quickly as possible and set a strategic release plan in motion.
“The threat came in through Safe2Tell,” said Zubrinic, “I let the administration know and called our officers. We are going to take it seriously anytime there’s a threat to the school. I figured the more people we had at the school, the safer it would be. We did a strategic release; we had police officers out there that knew what was going on.”
“(SROs) also know the inside and outside layout of the school,” said Zubrinic. “If there is a threat, we can put people where they need to be. We know weaknesses in cameras. There are a lot of things we are looking at in a short period of time to make sure kids are safe.
“We are trained to handle crisis incidents,” Zubrinic continued, “and the administration is to a degree, but it’s very important that we have an SRO in schools.”
Gagon was faced with a different kind of crisis situation recently. In March, a Change.org petition entitled `End Rape Culture at Arvada West High School’ began circulating online and on social media.
The petition, which has now garnered over 2,000 signatures states that, “Male students at Arvada West High School in Arvada, Colorado are posting harmful statements after the recent media outburst of Sarah Everard, a woman who was kidnapped and raped by a policeman.”
Everard is a woman who disappeared in London in March and whose remains were found a week later. A police officer has been charged with kidnapping and killing her, and her death has led to a mass movement against sexual violence.
The petition goes on to say that, “Statements such as `You wouldn’t have been raped if you shot him’ and `Guns are the answer to rape’, as well as `We do teach men better but when there’s songs saying wet as p*ssy and p*rn it changes a mans mindset a bit’. These statements are harmful and enraging for every student concerned with the sexual assault and rape epidemic in this country.”
Furthermore, the petition argues that Gagon should have responded to the social media posts, stating that “A-West’s SRO claimed nothing could be done because of “freedom of speech”, justifying sexual harassment/sexual assault/rape is NOT freedom of speech, it’s hateful rhetoric which makes victims and young women at our school feel unsafe.”
Comments on the petition laid out specific examples of alleged abuse at Arvada West.
“I know more than 50% of the girls at A-West have been asked for nudes and or pressured for them by A-West boys,” wrote one petition signee.
“I’ve been sexually harassed in the parking lot. I have also been sexually harassed and assaulted within classrooms and no one did anything to stop it,” wrote another.
Gagon said that the social media posts constitute an issue of freedom of speech, not a criminal offense.
“The student had emailed us their concerns and the screenshots from social media,” said Gagon. “The posts weren’t directed towards anyone; they were just on their stories and the student happened to come upon them. When we look at something like that, we look at what crime could have been violated.
“There was no crime, no threat in this situation,” Gagon continued, “at that point, if there’s not a crime it becomes a freedom of speech issue, which this case was, and that’s what I communicated to the school. I told the school to review their social media policy, but on the criminal side there was no crime here.”
Social media literacy
Both Gagon and Zubrinic said that they have been working with students at Arvada West and Ralston Valley to help educate them on the potential pitfalls of social media, and how to be a good digital citizen.
Zubrinic said that the impulsive nature of social media discourse can lead to heated confrontations at school.
“It causes a lot of issue,” said Zubrinic. “Kids are very reactive, so if they see something on social media, they don’t want to think, they want to shoot back at the other person. A lot of times that causes arguments in the school. Sometimes that makes kids want to fight each other.”
Gagon added that in his talks with students about social media and internet safety, he teaches the importance of positivity and that it’s alright not to participate in trends or follow certain accounts.
“I just finished teaching our sophomore class about internet safety and being a good digital citizen,” said Gagon. “Part of that class is you have to be so careful with what you read and see on social media; you have to do fact checking. I just tell them you have to be so careful with what you’re doing.
“It’s OK to get rid of social media,” Gagon continued. “There’s nothing saying you have to do or follow certain things. (In my class,) we were just talking about being a good digital citizen, doing and saying things that are positive. It’s OK to post things you believe but do it in a positive way.”
Gagon added that there is currently a “huge issue with sexting” and students not anticipating lewd photos of themselves sent to a partner to be passed along outside the confines of that relationship. He continued to say that there has been a problem with teen boys being catfished and extorted by scammers pretending to be young women.
Zubrinic said that in his experience, kids don’t understand that things uploaded to the internet stay there permanently.
“Once it’s online, it’s there forever,” said Zubrinic. “And kids don’t understand that. If they’re sending pictures of themselves and so few high school-age relationships last more than a couple of months, and if the breakup is contentious, people are going to use those pictures against you. If you send it out, it’s not the only person you’re sending it to who’s going to see that.”
Gagon said students have a steep learning curve when it comes to handling the internet and social media landscape.
“I think there’s a long way to go,” Gagon said. “I think that we have a handful of students that are like `holy crap, I’ve got to be more careful,’ but we have some that don’t even care. They don’t understand the consequences of things later in life. If you apply for a job or university or scholarship, they’re going to go through everything to see what kind of person you are. And that hits them quite a bit.”
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