When Columbus Police Officer Bret Wilson encountered teens on the job, he found them to be disrespectful, rude to their parents and unwilling to take responsibility for their actions.
Troubled by their behavior, he decided to meet them on neutral ground. This year, Wilson began working as a substitute teacher in South-Western schools in addition to working as a patrol officer.
"I wanted to get into the school side and see what's going on," he said.
South-Western's policy prohibits Wilson from carrying his gun in school, and he does not wear his uniform. But his presence as a substitute teacher is something that many lawmakers and law-enforcement officials support as a way to strengthen school safety.
To encourage officers to work as substitute teachers on their days off, U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi introduced a bill last week that would exempt them from federal income taxes on the pay they receive from teaching. The officers still would be required to have a bachelor's degree and meet other state and school-district requirements for substitute teachers.
"The expense of a substitute teacher is an expense a district will incur anyway," said Columbus Deputy Police Chief Richard Bash. He proposed the idea to Tiberi, a Republican from Genoa Township, after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six adults in December.
"The goal for these substitute teachers is to never have to act as a police officer while they are there teaching," Bash said. "It would put my mind at ease that the sub in my school was prepared to take action."
Several Columbus police officers work off-duty in schools as coaches or as adjunct college professors. Wilson, however, is the only officer who works as a substitute teacher, according to police records.
Kenneth Trump, president of Cleveland-based National School Safety and Security Services, said that if schools want to hire police officers for security reasons, they should hire them solely as security officers.
"If they are being hired as a substitute teacher, their primary job focus is just that," he said. "It's teaching, not to perform a security function."
To become a substitute teacher, Wilson needed approval from Columbus police, had to get a substitute license and had to pass a district background check. Wilson, 45, has a bachelor's degree in business from Concordia University in Texas.
Because the Police Division requires Wilson to be armed when in Columbus, he can work only in schools outside the city; local districts don't permit teachers to carry firearms. He started teaching in February and has since worked in four South-Western schools.
He has seen well-behaved students focused on their work, comforted a crying child and settled those who couldn't stay in their seats. He also has told a disengaged teen to remove his headphones in class and heard students try to disrupt their teacher's lesson.
"You can see the difference in the attitudes of the students from the time they're in elementary school to the high-school level," said Wilson, who has been a patrol officer for more than nine years and does field training for new recruits.
"Hopefully, the experience I'm getting will help me guide kids," he said.
Copyright 2013 - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
McClatchy-Tribune News Service