Last updated 12/21/2021 at Noon
If you were a Hollywood producer and needed somebody to play an SRO (School Resource Officer), the casting agent could do no better than Brent Crosswhite, the SRO for Sisters School District. He’s the archetype for the role: an older dad or cool grandad. He’s not imposing in stature but is fit, and in his duty vest his presence suggests that you’re not likely to settle any differences with him physically.
Nor would you need to, as he would disarm you instantly with his composure and wisdom gained over serving in the role for seven years, three being the normal. In fact, the 22-year veteran retired from Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office in June, but is at his same post under contract, to the apparent delight of the schools’ administrators.
The SRO is a community-based deputy sheriff helping schools ensure student safety. Crosswhite works closely with administrators to help prevent crime before it occurs and develop positive relationships with students and staff. The deputy’s aim, according to the school district, is to develop trusting relationships with students so that they feel comfortable talking about safety issues.
An SRO is part of the school community and attends a variety of school functions, including athletic events and performances. They are available to students to address issues of criminality including property crimes, harassment, abuse, violence, etc. In Bend and Redmond, SROs are part of the municipal police departments.
First, the good news (there is no bad news). We don’t have gang problems in Sisters. Cliques, yes. Street gangs, no. That doesn’t mean Crosswhite has a cushy job. To the contrary, five days a week, eight to nine hours a day he has responsibility for the safety of over 1,100 kiddos in the three schools.
Sisters schools are not homogeneous. Fifteen percent of enrollment is non-white, around 19 percent are economically disadvantaged, 12 percent are special needs, and close to three percent are English language learners. They are, however, provincial, in the sense that the kids grow up together, going to the same school; first elementary, then middle, and finally high school. Larger communities have more than one K-5 or middle school feeding more than one high school. Bend has 33 schools in its system. Redmond, 16 in all.
So, kids in Sisters have a lot of synergy growing up, all pretty much knowing each other, sharing classes, sports, and activities. That doesn’t mean everybody plays nicely, Crosswhite tells me. The old adage that familiarity breeds contempt can evolve by the time students reach middle or high school.
The biggest part of his job is repairing damage done by social media, where harassment and bullying are every bit the problem in our little patch of paradise as in any urban center. Maybe worse, he says, since everybody knows everybody. There is no escaping.
“When you and I went to school, Bill, after class, even if we played sports, we went home and school was over until the next day,” Crosswhite said. “School now is 24/7/365 as a result of social media, and where in prior generations bullying or picking on a kid might have ended at 3 p.m., now it can be relentless.”
He explained for me the difference between harassment and bullying, the former being a crime, the latter a behavior. He sees both.
What’s the hardest part of your job, I ask him?
“Gaining trust,” he answers.
His long tenure has worked in his favor and he thinks he has the trust, enough that kids or parents will come to him with some frequency to identify issues that if left unattended could grow to bigger ones, from school-imposed sanctions like suspension to judicial-imposed penalties.
Crosswhite has issued citations over the years, usually as a last resort, but sees his job essentially as educating and counseling. It seems to me he walks a tightrope needing to balance safety with garnering trust. Sisters kids are like kids everywhere, loathe to snitch and not eager to call out for help.
He makes about 20-30 contacts a day with students, mostly just chatting. They call him mostly by his last name, or – “Hey, Crosswhite.” Nobody calls him deputy or sheriff. He wants and gets respect, while at the same time keeping it loose, keeping the door always open.
His office is strategically located at the high school with a span of interior windows to the commons, where students arrive and depart and lunch happens. Interestingly he gets most of his “business” off campus, with students old enough to drive speeding to and from campus, particularly at lunchtime as kids rush to get to fast food or home and back in 30 minutes.
Drug of choice, I ask?
“Marijuana,” he answers. Marijuana, despite being legal in Oregon, is a misdemeanor if in the possession of a minor and a big-time violation of school rules. It’s naïve to think Crosswhite doesn’t have to deal with drug and alcohol issues; illicit distribution isn’t one of them, luckily.
Crosswhite patrols the middle school at least weekly, and pre-COVID he was a regular presence at the elementary school. Like the experience of all SROs, it’s high school where trouble is more apt to take place, thus where he is mostly stationed.
I have high confidence that Sisters School District is well prepared to handle violent threats. At least two lockdown drills a year are held. Crosswhite sees good readiness among staff and students.
If you get a chance, introduce yourself to Deputy Crosswhite and let him know that you appreciate the way he protects our children. I know I do.