Rob Susi was a school resource officer in Falmouth for 26 years. He retired Dec. 20 and is now the school safety and security specialist at the Maine Department of Education. Susi said this week that being a school resource officer was the best job he ever had. Contributed

FALMOUTH — Rob Susi, the former school resource officer at Falmouth High School, said this week it “was the greatest job I ever had.”

Susi served the Falmouth schools for 26 years and spent a total of 30 years on the local police force. He retired Dec. 20

Susi said he loved the ability to “make a difference for kids in their tough formative years.”

While the first duty of school resource officers is to protect students and staff from both external and internal threats, Susi said the role has evolved to include a focus on building relationships, problem-solving and counseling.

“The most important thing a school resource officer can do is form connections,” Susi said. “It’s not about being a cop; it’s about helping students navigate through any issues that arise. One of our first duties is to be a trusted resource.”

Susi said his job changed a lot over the quarter-century he spent in the schools.

At first, he was a part-time D.A.R.E. officer, with a focus on providing Drug Abuse Resistance Education programs. Then in the mid-1990s, he was named the school resource officer for the elementary and middle schools.

In 2002, Susi was assigned full time to the high school.

Susi said this week it’s very rare for school resource officers to make an arrest on campus and that the focus of the job has “really shifted to a lot more counseling, preventive intervention and taking creative approaches to restorative justice.”

That said, Susi said he and the police department spend a lot of time and effort preparing to respond in the event there’s an active shooter or other threat.

Following the horrific school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, the police department added a second school resource officer to the school campus.

Officer Jeff Smith has now taken over for Susi at the high school and Tuesday morning, Chief John Kilbride announced that Officer Alex Beaton will take on Smith’s duties at the elementary and middle school level.

Susi is now the school safety and security specialist at the Maine Department of Education and said one of his goals will be tracking and working with the various school resource officers in the state.

Ed Tolan, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association and a former chief in Falmouth, said “there’s no question about the value” of school resource officers. In addition to providing a key layer of security, they also provide critical relationship-building, which is “so important to have in this day and age.”

“The biggest thing a school resource officer can do is ensure that kids feel comfortable approaching and talking with a police officer in full uniform,” he said.

Peter Badalament, principal at Falmouth High School, called Susi “an exemplary school resource officer,” saying, “I’ve seen numerous people in this role during my career, and Rob was the best at truly connecting with students.”

“These are specialized officers that display strong communication skills, compassion, teamwork, critical thinking … (and) and the fearless ability to address threats introduced within the schools,” Kilbride added.

He said it was Susi’s “gentle nature and the ability to connect with students, staff and administrators,” that made him an outstanding school resource officer. “He truly loved the students and … was able to (create) deep mutual trust, connection and respect with all age groups.”

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