Utah School Resource Officer Fires Weapon into Car Full of Teenagers

A Utah school resource officer fired his weapon into a car full of teenagers in West Valley City after the teen driver accelerated his vehicle into the officer.

Situation escalated

The resource officer of a West Valley City high school was patrolling the surrounding neighborhood when he spotted a car full of boys who looked to be high school age. As he approached the car, possibly to check to see if the boys were ditching class, the officer could smell marijuana coming from the vehicle. He continued to advance toward the vehicle when the car suddenly lurched forward and hit the officer, sending him onto the hood of the vehicle. It was at that point the school resource officer chose to fire his weapon into the car full of teens, critically injuring the young driver.

Split second decisions

While the teenage driver fights for his life in the hospital, the passengers who have been identified as two students and a (possibly young) “adult” are being located and questioned in the incident. As the investigation continues, some Utah residents are questioning whether or not the officer’s use of potential deadly force was justified. Although a vehicle can be considered a deadly weapon when used to hurt someone- is that what happened? Was the teen trying to run the officer over with his vehicle or did he become startled and react by pressing the accelerator? Did the officer truly fear for his life when the car lunged forward or did he become startled and react by reaching for his firearm? Another concern from residents is whether or not the situation was dire enough for the officer, who is trained to protect students, to put the vehicle’s passengers in danger.

Teen behavior around law enforcement

Whether it is determined that the officer’s actions were justified or that his actions were extreme for the circumstances, there is still a teen who is left with life threatening injuries. As tension continues to grow between the general public and law enforcement, teens should be taught to always refrain from drastic or aggressive actions towards police for the sake of their own safety. If disagreements or concerns arise during police questioning or an arrest, it is best for teens to handle themselves in a calm manner and request the accompaniment of an attorney.

Duties of School Resource Officers in Utah

School resource officers have many duties related to their positions supervising education facilities throughout Utah. These obligations don’t always involve breaking up fights and keeping the school grounds drug and weapon free.

School Resource Officers
Photo by: Rescuenav

School resource officers A.K.A. school cops

School resource officers often get a bad rap patrolling the hallways of Utah schools almost as if their position is a type of demotion or security guard status. On the contrary, school cops are law enforcement officers who are not only responsible for ensuring that all activities in and around the school are lawful, but also for teaching and mentoring the youth they oversee.

Real police officers

Photo by: North Charlston
Photo by: North Charlston

School resource officers are regular police officers but who are specially contracted to work with the “local education agency” or LEA. As stated in Utah Code 53A-11-1604, school resource officers are to:

“(i) provide for and maintain a safe, healthy, and productive learning environment in a school;
(ii) act as a positive role model to students;
(iii) work to create a cooperative, proactive, and problem-solving partnership between law enforcement and the LEA;
(iv) emphasize the use of restorative approaches to address negative behavior; and
(v) at the request of the LEA, teach a vocational law enforcement class;”

Trained specifically to work with the youth

Photo by: West Midlands Police
Photo by: West Midlands Police

Being a school cop usually requires additional training beyond the police academy and field training programs. According to Utah Code 53A-11-1603, in order to best serve the schools and the students they serve, school resource officers may be specifically trained in:

“(a) childhood and adolescent development;
(b) responding age-appropriately to students;
(c) working with disabled students;
(d) techniques to de-escalate and resolve conflict;
(e) cultural awareness;
(f) restorative justice practices;
(g) identifying a student exposed to violence or trauma and referring the student to appropriate resources;
(h) student privacy rights;
(i) negative consequences associated with youth involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice systems;
(j) strategies to reduce juvenile justice involvement; and
(k) roles of and distinctions between a school resource officer and other school staff who help keep a school secure.”

Chose to work in a school setting

Photo by: John Taylor
Photo by: John Taylor

It is important to teach Utah children that school cops are sworn law enforcement officers and should be respected as such. Additionally, children should not fear their school resource officers. They should known them as someone who is passionate about education and is there to help the kids gain an education in a safe setting while being a liaison between the schools and the police department.