By Joe Tash
Officer John Ross drives a marked patrol car, carries a gun and badge, and has the power to make arrests and issue traffic citations. But as a San Diego Unified School District campus police officer, his job description varies from that of the typical beat cop. “We wear many hats, police officer, counselor, advice-giver,” said Ross, who was assigned to La Jolla High School at the start of the school year. “Our day-to-day job is different than regular SDPD (San Diego Police Department) officers.”
Whether he’s in front of the school keeping an eye on traffic during morning drop-off, walking the corridors as students move between classes, or serving as a visible presence at football and basketball games, no two days are the same, and Ross enjoys the variety.
La Jolla High School has been without a permanent campus officer for seven years. This school year, the city schools police department reorganized, moving some campus officers from middle schools to high schools. Every high school in the San Diego Unified School District now has an assigned campus officer, said Sgt. Troy Holliday.
Ross maintains an office at La Jolla High, but responds to calls at a “cluster” of nearby campuses, including Muirlands Middle School and La Jolla, Birdrock and Torrey Pines elementary schools.
The change means Ross can respond more quickly to calls at La Jolla schools than in the past, when an officer had to drive to La Jolla from another area, and fight traffic congestion along the way, said Holliday.
“We just saw the value in having someone assigned to the area permanently so we didn’t have to deal with the response-time lag,” said Holliday.
School officials were pleased to have Ross assigned to the La Jolla High campus, said vice principal Walter Fairley Jr.
“It’s an assistance to us. We don’t have to wait an inordinate amount of time for someone to get here,” he said. “Even though we don’t expect there to be major problems we can’t handle… it’s good to have that presence here, just in case.”
Ross, 41, is a California native who has worked for the San Diego schools police department for 12 years. Before coming to La Jolla High, he was assigned to San Diego and Madison high schools, and he also worked in the department’s patrol division for seven years.
Ross has a 12-year-old son, and said his job helps him as a parent because he learns about trends affecting schools before his son does. Conversely, his experience as a parent helps him work more effectively with the students.
When kids are giving him an attitude, he said, “you try to use your verbal judo to bring them around. If you go in too hard-charging, kids are going to shut down, no matter what age. If you treat them with a little respect, they’re going to give it back to you. Not just in information, but in personal contact.”
Ross said he maintains an open door policy, and is happy when both students and parents come in to chat or to share issues they are dealing with.