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Former Columbus School Resource Officer Reflects On Changing Roles Of Police

Debbie Holmes

After 23 years as a school resource officer, Larry Howell says he'll miss working at Whetstone High School. In June, Columbus City Schools decided not to renew its contract with the Columbus Division of Police following protests over police presence in schools. 

“Kids have always seen me as approachable,” Howell says. “The parents have always seen that. I’ve got kids that graduated my first (year in) ‘97 that I still talk to, I still see, I still hear from.”

During the months of protests following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police in May, activists in Columbus and other cities have demanded the removal of officers in schools as part of a bucket list of police reforms. Critics call school resource officers part of the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Howell says when he began as a school resource officer in 1997 at Beechcroft High School, the focus leaned toward punishing students. He says that's what school administrators and others expected. 

“Schools, the department, everybody involved wanted us making arrests to try to get the buildings under control, get things calmed down, and make a presence,” Howell says.

However, Howell says that changed dramatically through the years.

“Over the years since that, our arrests if you look at our numbers, they just continued to drop, drop, drop, and drop, because we’ve come up with other ways to try to work with the students," he says.

Howell explains efforts now are centered more on solutions to keep students in school.

“I’ve worked in the high schools," Howell says. "I’ve had to do community stuff, get to know parents, get to mediate, get to work out problems. Parents pick up the phone and call you to say, 'This is what’s going on, can I get some help?'”

Because he’s looking for a new position within Columbus Police, Howell says he resigned from his coaching position with the Whetstone High school boys’ soccer team.

“I’m already missing the interaction with my soccer team that I’ve had for the last seven years, and my coaching staff that I worked with,” Howell says. “When school starts, I’m going to miss the everyday something different.”

He hopes his new job will still involve a close relationship with the community.

“It’s the interaction, getting to talk to kids, getting to help kids, getting to know families that you continue to know throughout their lives,” Howell says.

Debbie Holmes has worked at WOSU News since 2009. She has hosted All Things Considered, since May 2021. Prior to that she was the host of Morning Edition and a reporter.