In 2009 the City of Hollywood had 5,882 traffic crashes, nine of which were fatal, and Hollywood Police Department officers made 175 DUI arrests and issued 29,910 traffic citations. In an attempt to help combat these statistics, the Hollywood Police Department’s School Resource Officer Program makes presentations at local schools to educate youth about the importance of safe driving.
Started in 1986 under the supervision of former Police Chief Mike Ignasiak as a way to reduce the likelihood of criminal activity occurring on school grounds, the School Resource Officer Program now also educates students on topics such as drug awareness and avoidance, bullying, Internet safety, gang reductions training and reckless driving.
The program, which currently operates in seven middle and high schools, also lends support to all Hollywood public schools, and is a cooperative effort between the Hollywood Police Department and the School Board of Broward County, according to a Hollywood Police Department report. In addition, the School Resource Officer Program uses seven sworn uniformed police officers whose sole duty assignments are confined to their designated schools, nearby elementary schools and their adjacent grounds. These officers work in conjunction with the central school administration, the individual school principals and school staffs, the report stated.
“If we can reach out and the officers can affect a young person’s decision making in regards to things like drinking and driving and gang violence before they get to the level where they’re confronted with it then hopefully we can help them make the right decisions when it comes up,” said Lieutenant Manny Marino of the Public Affairs Unit of the HPD. “This program is really educational, especially at the younger ages.”
The School Resource Officers also partner with other organizations committed to educating youth about the dangers of drinking and driving and reckless driving – organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.) – and officers from the Hollywood Police Department travel to both public and private schools outside the School Resource Officer Program to inform students about these issues.
During a recent presentation at Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory in Hollywood, officers from the Hollywood Police Department’s Traffic Homicide Unit discussed the dangers of texting and driving, drinking and driving, and the consequences of irresponsible and reckless driving.
The officers exposed students to real-life DUI and suspicious behavior traffic-stop videos as well as video interviews with the families of victims killed by drunk drivers or while texting and driving. Chaminade-Madonna students and faculty also participated in a demonstration using goggles that simulated impaired vision when under the influence of a mind-altering substance.
“The presentation was really informative,” said senior Tina Rodriguez, who’s also a member of the Students Against Drunk Driving (S.A.D.D.) club at Chaminade-Madonna. “I don’t think many of the kids knew how dangerous texting and driving is, which surprised me. Life is precious and anything as small as one text can change everything.”
The Hollywood Police Department said that texting and driving is increasingly becoming a driving hazard throughout the community, and that while Florida does not have a specific statute prohibiting it, a person texting while driving who creates a traffic hazard may be cited with careless driving.
Another topic stressed at the presentation was that DUI arrests include more than drunk driving. Drugged impaired driving is also dangerous and illegal.
Rodriguez said the goggles that stimulated impaired vision during their presentation were astonishing because many of the students couldn’t even walk in a straight line, so she knew they definitely couldn’t drive. In addition, she said S.A.D.D. plans to sponsor similar activities on campus to further educate students about reckless driving, and the club will soon start a campaign against texting and driving in which students will vow to stop the dangerous habit.
“Chaminade is a close-knit family, and we all love and care about each other,” Rodriguez said. “We all want to see each other grow up, so we’re going to try and get the message across through S.A.D.D.”
The effectiveness of the School Resource Officer Program earned the Hollywood Police Department recognition as a Model SRO Agency by the National Association of School Resource Officers in July 2007. Recipients of the Model SRO Program Award must have shown a willingness to be proactive in their training, be comprehensive in their policies, excel in their daily operations and must have brought recognition for the SRO program in their immediate area.
“We are very proud of the department’s long-standing commitment to traffic enforcement,” said Lieutenant Scott Pardon, Special Operations Section, in an e-mail. “In 2009, the Hollywood Police Department was awarded first place in the Florida Law Enforcement Challenge for similar sized agencies as it relates to traffic enforcement, education and initiatives.”
For more information about the School Resource Officers, visit www. hollywoodpolice.org.