1st day back to school falls on birthday of Lawrence Jones, legendary Rohnert Park school resource officer | #schoolsaftey

“I’m comfortable with it,” she said, about having a school resource officer on campus. Six middle school students interviewed Wednesday said they also felt safer with an officer around.

In the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District, which had a 45% Latino student population last year, there is one school resource officer, Debbie Lamaison, who rotates among all the campuses.

On Wednesday, Lamaison, who is Mexican and German, hugged students, took pictures of them and greeted parents at the drop-off curb in front of Rancho Cotate High School.

“I love my job,” she said, in her uniform as students shuffled past her. “When people ask how many kids I have, I tell them I have 2,500 kids.”

Lamaison, who has spent 19 years in the Rohnert Park Public Safety Department, said she views her job as being an approachable parental figure.

She also serves a supportive role in communicating with many parents ―her ability to speak Spanish helps. She attends district events including board meetings and is a teacher’s aid in the high school weightlifting class. (Lamaison is also a body builder.)

“I see the need for someone on campus, especially in a police officer’s role, to support the kids and make them feel safe,” she said. “The kids know I love them and I would do anything for them to help them, but they also know that business is business. If they do something and there needs to be a consequence, there’s gonna be one.”

Lamaison, who grew up going to schools in the district, remembers “Officer Friendly” as an incredibly sweet person with a big smile.

“I just remember, he would always call everyone sweetheart, and give you a hug,” she said. “Everybody loved Larry Jones.”

Rohnert Park Public Safety Department Deputy Chief Aaron Johnson became close friends with Jones and his wife as the two were patrol partners and also served together in the fire department.

“Something that I learned from him was: everybody has a story,” Johnson said. “You just need to get to know them to know their story.”

The processes of selecting and training a school resource officer is taken seriously by the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety, he said. They want someone who is personable and is not concerned about the day-to-day rule breaking, he added.

“I think compassion and empathy are important attributes for a school resource officer,” he said. “In my opinion, our current school resource officer, she has that and is doing a great job.”

Tracy Jones Jackson, Jones’s daughter, said her father was larger than life.

“He was my dad — He wasn’t a school resource officer,” Jackson said. “I understood that was his job, but he instantly became my dad even when I saw him on campus. So I didn’t have the school resource officer to go to.”

She still doesn’t understand how he was able to be present during all the important moments of her life, as well as everybody else’s.

“There was a lot of trust and genuine affection that was able to be built between my dad and all of the students in school,” she said.

Many in the school community have called for the presence of school resource officers like Jones, but have stressed the importance of creating strong guidelines for them.

“I think Officer Friendly really represents the incredible potential that exists with a role model in a school resource officer,” said Amie Carter, the superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education. “I’ve only had great experiences with school resource officers, and I find that they can really impact youth in a positive way.”

“I think that’s a healthy conversation for us to be continually reflective on,“ she added.

Carter said she urges districts seeking advice to create safeguards for the school and law enforcement relationship, spend time finding a way for it to work for everybody and let students have a voice in the decision.

Those who sang praises of “Officer Friendly,” acknowledged that not all people in law enforcement possess the traits needed to be around children and that there are instances when they did more harm than good.

“My heart is broken when I hear about children getting handcuffed at school or their opinions being shaped by these situations that are probably excessive in how they need to approach kids,” Jackson said.

Carolyn Jones said her husband was special in the way he knew how to talk to kids, coming from his own life experiences.

Growing up he had a rough life, Jones said. As a teenager, he was shot five times and his heart stopped on the operation table. An out-of-body experience led him to turn his outlook on life around and give back to the community.

“He would tell kids ‘I’ve been there, I’ve made the silly mistakes that you have,’ so he wouldn’t talk authoritatively down to them,” Jones said.

“I think there’s just a unique ability,” his daughter Jackson said. “I don’t think that’s like an assignment ― It’s a calling. There’s a difference between the two and you have to really be called in order to be able to really relate to students and children and their issues.”

Jackson said the fact that the school returns on the same day as her dad’s birthday feels special. “The whole thing is just truly ironic,” she said.

When he turned 40 years old, she drew him a card joking that it’s all downhill from now.

“He just laughed,” she said. “I mean, a big belly laugh. He’s like, ‘you just wait to until you turn 40.’ ”

It continued to be a joke between the two, but unfortunately her father passed when Jackson was 39.

A year later, she found out that her father had saved the card she had given him and was planning to give it back to her that year. It was the same week they renamed the school after him.

The symbolic dates and coincidences throughout the years, including Wednesday’s “feel like they’re just my little love notes back from my dad.”

“I just really appreciate the fact that his memory lives on,” she said. “I just feel so blessed and fortunate that other people get to understand who he was to the community because he really, really loved the community. I wish he were alive to see all this and to have known that he was being honored in this way.”

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8531 or [email protected]. On Twitter @alana_minkler.

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