Pleasanton school resource officers take campus safety messages to students

Police act as mentors, first line of defense in campus emergencies

Pleasanton Police Officer Marty Billdt looked from 13-year-old to 13-year-old, knowing his words would have to walk a fine line.

He'd pondered many questions before standing in front of Amy Patnode's eighth-grade class at Harvest Park Middle School earlier this month.

How could he explain to these children that the world wasn't all safe while assuring them that they were protected? How should he warn them these bad things could happen to them -- but that they shouldn't be afraid?

The new school resource officer tried to keep his message light enough to avoid scaring them but clear enough so they'd know how to stay safe.

He addressed strangers and Internet safety -- "after four days, you're not in love, so don't go try to meet him or get into his van."

And he tackled bullying online and in person -- "even though the person may forgive you later, there's still this hurtful residue."

Billdt and Officer Michael Rossillon started their new roles as Pleasanton police's school resource officers this school year after the previous school resource officers rotated to other posts. They introduced themselves to students at Harvest Park in mid-September and had chosen their safety presentation message carefully, choosing the right words for each grade.

Pleasanton police officers have served as school resource officers since 2002 under an agreement with the school district, with their salaries paid by the city.

The practice is similar to arrangements nationwide, where officers work on campuses to build relationships with students through mentoring, to counsel students who were arrested off campus and to respond to emergencies such as a school shooting or a bomb threat -- even if the threat is a hoax, as it was earlier this month when a bomb threat was emailed to Amador Valley High's principal.

The two officers share responsibility of Pleasanton's 15 schools. Rossillon has an office at Foothill High, and Billdt has one at Amador Valley. They respond to any school when called, but otherwise they're on various campuses to connect with students or to attend school events.

School resource officers wear a few hats, Billdt and Rossillon said. Yes, they are investigators and disciplinarians, but they are also stress counselors and career mentors.

Prior school resource officers have helped students turn their lives around -- as well as save lives. Billdt said a predecessor counseled a teen who'd been arrested and was going down the wrong path but is now a respected serviceman in the military.

They also keep an eye out for another type of safety concern: self-harm.

Officers respond when a student has talked about considering suicide to get them help as soon as possible, and they give students an anonymous student tip line so they can alert authorities if a friend is in danger -- 925-417-5199. That phone number has saved lives, the officers tell students at the classrooms they visit.

"It's also about building that trust," Rossillon said, noting students will come to them or call the tip line if they think a peer is going to hurt themselves or others. "They are our eyes and ears."

In Patnode's classroom, Billdt joked to the eighth-graders about how he isn't "the fashion police" but said he's there to keep the campus safe and calm. He reminded students that they can come to him about incidents that happened off campus and on the weekends.

He reminded them calmly that they have to respect others, even when no one is looking.

"Your actions might have consequences," he said.

In part, the officers' jobs are to help children grow up feeling comfortable around law enforcement. When officers attend ice cream socials, know kids' names and encourage students who may be having a tough time, they get the idea that officers don't just show up when something's wrong, Rossillon said.

In a time when the public image of officers is tenuous at best, he said, getting to know students' names and interests -- as well as their struggles -- show that he and Billdt actually care about students.

The students "see there's another person behind the uniform," he said. "They felt I was more approachable."

At the end of the day, their No. 1 goal is to keep each campus safe and to make sure students are making the right choices that will point them on the path toward success, the officers said.

But there's another side of their assignment that can't be ignored. In an age where school shootings seem far too common, when the names like "Sandy Hook" and "Columbine" grip teachers' and parents' hearts with sorrow and a tinge of fear, school resource officers act as a deterrence for violence and a first line of defense.

"It's peace of mind for a lot of our staff and students and parents," Foothill High School principal Jason Krolikowski said of having armed officers on campus. "It's not on my mind at all times, but in our current reality of violence at schools, you never know."

More often than not, Krolikowski said, officers are talking with high school seniors who have questions about becoming an officer when they graduate or talking over the troubles that are on their mind.

Rossillon, an East Bay resident, grew up locally and knew from an early age he wanted to be a police officer.

The first spark started when an educational replica of the talking car Herbie came to his school for a visit. But this time, the quirky vehicle was "Herby the Patrol Car."

Between that and watching his family friend, a Union City officer, he decided he wanted to help people when he grew up.

"It just always seemed like you could go to work and enjoy doing it, rather than it just being a job," he said.

After earning his bachelor's degree in finance, Rossillon joined the Pleasanton Police Department 11 years ago. He worked for PPD patrol and criminal investigation. Later on, he said, he dealt with cases involving identity theft, fraud and computer crimes.

Billdt, a Livermore resident, said he didn't take a traditional path to becoming an officer.

He developed an early passion for helping others when his parents decided to take in several foster children when he was 5 years old. Most of his family was in public service, and he felt his family's penchant for "giving back and reaching out to kids had an influence on me."

After getting his pilot's license and graduating from San Jose State University with a degree in aviation operations, he set out to become a helicopter pilot.

"I always wanted to do two things: be an officer and a pilot," he said.

That dream didn't materialize, and Billdt worked for about a decade in sales at the San Jose Mercury News, a dot-com company that folded and a relocation company.

That experience taught him how to focus on solving others' problems, and it pushed him toward achieving his lifelong goal of serving on the force.

After completing academy training, Billdt was sworn in at the Pleasanton Police Department in 2006. He served on patrol and in the traffic unit before starting his assignment as a school resource officer this school year.

"I kept getting this calling to be a police officer," he said. The indirect path was "a blessing in disguise."

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Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Grey Eagle Estates
on Oct 3, 2015 at 9:10 pm

Does PUSD practice lockdown drills or such in case of a mass shooter?

Like this comment
Posted by teacher
a resident of another community
on Oct 3, 2015 at 9:22 pm

Yes. We have fire, earthquake, and lockdown drills.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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