The Ravenna police patrolman joined students at Ravenna High School and Brown Middle School as they made their way from lockers to class Tuesday _ the first day of a new school year.
It was also the first day of O'Neil's new position as resource officer for Ravenna schools.
Bringing a uniformed officer into the educational arena represents a partnership between the city and the schools, Ravenna Superintendent Philip Warner said.
"It's certainly something we've been in the discussion stage with for at least the last couple of years," Warner said of the project. "We have student issues that arise where I think with the assistance of a youth officer, it would have a tremendous impact with improving the environment in the high school _ inside and outside of the building."
Some of those issues include tobacco use among students and loitering just beyond school boundaries before and after school.
"It's not a school coverage responsibility," Warner said of students who linger near school property but not on it. "But we have an obligation to businesses and homeowners to move the students along. That's a situation where problems sometimes begin to brew and then they carry over into the building."
In a city Ravenna's size, school problems are community problems, said Ravenna Police Chief Michael Swartout.
"School in a town like Ravenna is actually the hub," Swartout said. "It's the soul. Our resources have to be there. Ed is going to try to elicit the assistance of parents and students to monitor the before and after school mess."
O'Neil, who will be on hand to deal with problems in the two buildings, also will serve as an educational tool for teachers who need an extra resource when teaching about criminal justice or other police-related topics, he said.
The placement of the officer inside the schools also is a step toward thwarting problems before they occur.
"With my presence, we're shifting our paradigm to be problem-solvers and police officers," O'Neil added, saying students should look to law enforcement for solutions rather than as reactionaries.
"These kids need to take pride in themselves and in school," Swartout added.
One of the main objectives of the project is to bring schools, teachers, students, the police department and the community together to create a safer environment without bringing in armed guards, police said.
O'Neil, who serves as an assistant varsity football coach at the high school, also will serve as a liaison between the schools and the police department.
The long-term goal is to improve the schools and the city as a community, O'Neil said.
"It's something that we've talked about with school and parent groups for quite some time," Swartout said. "It's one aspect of our bigger, overall community policing effort."
Warner said Ravenna does not have a serious problem with violence in the schools but it is reassuring to know an officer will be nearby if anything should happen.
"Our students need to see the police not as the bad guy but as someone who's working with them," Warner said. "It's a great opportunity for the city of Ravenna."
Swartout said O'Neil's presence hopefully will be an extension of the Drug Awareness Resistance Education program implemented for younger students.
Students have brief access to DARE officers through educational
programming while in the third grade and in middle school, but DARE's
educational program is geared toward fifth-graders.