Patrolling the school beat
School Resource Officer Roy Richner stops his police SUV to tune his radar gun and check his weapons – a 12-gauge shotgun and an AR assault rifle.
“A lot of people forget I’m a cop first. A lot of people think of me as just working in the schools,” Richner says.
As the officer in charge of patrolling Truckee schools, Richner is kept pretty busy, maintaining a presence on the campuses as the Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education (DARE) officer for fifth graders and, of course, working with delinquent students.
Richner begins his 7-to-5 shift patrolling the halls of Tahoe Truckee High School.
There he enforces the school’s “no hats indoors” policy, snatching caps from students and handing them over to Vice Principal Bill Branca.
One high schooler jokes around with the officer as he hands over his hat, “But I’m an honor student, Richner!”
Many students greet Richner as he walks through the halls. They goof around with him and tell them how they’re doing at home and in school. Most people on campus know who he is – a person they probably feel they aren’t supposed to like, but a lot of them do.
Like him or not, the students seem to have accepted him as part of the school.
“If you help one kid with an issue at home, news travels fast. That kid will tell three kids, and they’ll feel comfortable approaching me. That’s part of why they accept me – I don’t know that they like me – but they accept me,” he says, pausing. “But I do think some of the kids like me.”
Next stop is Sierra Mountain Middle School, where even more of the students know Richner and greet him as he walks through the halls.
“I’ve had a lot of these kids in DARE when they were in fifth grade,” he says. “It’s made it easy to build a relationship with them.”
In the middle school office, Richner asks the assistant for attendance records of a couple perpetually truant students. As it turns out, one of them isn’t in class today.
“While I guess we’re going to go pick him up,” Richner says.
In his time as a school resource officer – since the beginning of the Truckee Police Department in September 2002 – the schools haven’t had a solid truancy policy. Through trial and error, Richner has attempted to get the truant students in class.
His solution: Richner drives to the truant students’ homes and picks them up for school.
“Usually both of the parents work,” he says, getting into his SUV. “So they aren’t home to make sure the student actually leaves for school.”
Upon arriving at the truant’s Donner Creek home, Richner gets out of the car and walks up to the doorway and greets the family, who are sitting and enjoying their breakfast. Instead of being surprised a cop is standing in their house, they smile and motion that it’s OK for Richner to wake up their son, who’s still in bed.
It’s obvious Richner has picked up this student more than a few times.
He walks down the hallway to the kid’s room, knocks on the door and says, “You’ve got five minutes, I have to be at a meeting at 9.”
While waiting for the middle schooler to get dressed, the student’s 5-year-old brother walks up behind the officer and wraps his arms around his waist. He asks Richner to “give him two,” while holding out two fingers. Then they progress to a round of indoor basketball.
After seven minutes have gone by, Richner goes into the hallway again, grabs the student’s backpack and sets it on the front porch.
One minute later, the student is ready for his ride to school – in the back of a Truckee Police Department SUV.
“All we’re looking for is improvement,” Richner says, looking at his passenger through the rear view mirror. “And we have seen a whole lot of that.”
After dropping the student off at school, Richner says he’s not sure if giving students rides to school actually gets them on track. He’s seen improvement in some attendance records, but with others it’s two steps forward and one step back.
When asked if he thinks it’s the parents’ responsibility to hold their children accountable to show up to school – Richner has been to some houses as many as 15 times to pick up truant students – he said all he wants is for the kids to be in class.
“Even if they’re in class and don’t pay attention, it’s bound to click at some point,” he says.
Although Richner’s practices may be seen as unorthodox by some opinions, he has done quite a bit to help down-and-out kids in Truckee – like finding them a place to stay when things aren’t good at home or discussing issues with their parents.
When some people call the police station to file a report or talk to an officer, they refuse to deal with anyone but Officer Richner.
His relationship with the community is something he is proud of and has worked hard to establish, but Richner points out that he’s not the only officer in the department to go above and beyond.
More than saying ‘no’
After a brief meeting at the department, Richner heads to Prosser Creek Charter School for Mr. Gold’s fifth-grade class’ last day of DARE. Throughout the 17-week course, he has taught the students how to say no to drugs, build self-esteem, cope with violence and decision-making skills.
The students read their DARE essays, promising to remain drug and alcohol free, as Richner grades them on content and presentation.
While listening to essays, Richner says, he realizes the students mean what they say in DARE class, but the true test comes when the children get into middle and high school.
“Through the years the question has been asked: Does DARE work?” Richner says of the now 20-year-old program. “I don’t think there’s an answer to that.”
Regardless, Richner seems to take the students’ vows to remain drug free personally. In his office at the station, he has DARE students’ artwork and DARE posters decorating his workstation.
‘First and foremost: A cop’
During his shift, Richner also polices the streets – monitoring his radar gun and other drivers as he drives from school to school. At one point, a driver of a pickup truck in front of Richner’s patrol car makes an obvious blunder: a right turn from the center lane.
“Could I give him a ticket? Yes, but it’ll probably only piss him off,” he says, laughing. He adds, more seriously, “If he would’ve affected someone’s right-of-way, I’d give him a ticket.”
Once it’s lunchtime at the high school, Richner wants to patrol the area so he can find kids smoking – and he makes no apologies about it.
“Kids find their places to smoke their dope and smoke their cigarettes, and it’s my job to correct that behavior. If I can stop them smoking now, they might not continue to do it later,” he said.
After driving around the normal spots, in a fruitless attempt to find students smoking, Richner decides to take to foot. He parks his SUV behind the school district offices and heads to the unpaved road behind the high school parking lot.
He walks 100 yards along the path and sees puffs of smoke rising from the bed of a pickup truck. As he heads up the hill toward the truck, the students see him coming.
Richner climbs onto the side of the bed of the truck to chat with the students and one of the students shows Richner his chewing tobacco, and the officer puts handcuffs on him for fear that the student “might take off.” Richner nabs three of the students on suspicion of possession of tobacco under age and all of them on suspicion of possessing tobacco products on school premises.
One of the students protests Richner’s charges, saying he’s “going to smoke no matter what.”
“I’m a smoker. What can I say?” the student said.
Richner calls two officers for backup and takes the students to Branca’s office to do paperwork on their write-ups. Richner puts a call in to each of the students’ parents.
“I realize it’s difficult for some parents to punish their kids,” Richner says back in the car. “If the parent smokes, it makes it real difficult to tell their kid that what they’re doing is wrong.”
When it gets to that point, Richner says, he feels it’s his time to step into the situation as an authoritative, law-enforcing figure.
“We just want everyone to graduate,” he said, “and no one to be named in the yearbook, ‘In memory of…'”
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