By Marina Renton         

Andover High’s School Resource Officer, Jason Dowd, a constant presence in the school’s hallways and cafeteria these days, feels at home here, and for good reason:  he is an alumnus of AHS and returned to the high school in order to “do something for the town [he] grew up in.”

“My father instilled in me a very strong sense of civic responsibility,” Dowd said. “He

Officer Dowd at work. Photo by Rosanna Wang.
Officer Dowd at work. Photo by Steven Kimball.

was in the Army, and that’s originally why I joined the military…. I live in a great country; I wanted to give back to it. And then that continued when I got out of the military…. I was always interested in police work, so I became a police officer for that reason. And it’s again a continuation of that to come [to AHS].”

To become a school resource officer, Dowd had to take part in a training course as well as attend various workshops. Dowd sees his role as something beyond an enforcer of school policy. “Some would say in today’s climate of school shootings and violence that the most important part of my job is security,” he said, “and I believe that is an important part as well. I think the most important part is doing what I can to make sure that this school, and the students especially, have the best chance to succeed and flourish.”

Dowd has been invited to speak in a number of AHS classrooms, such as the junior health classes and Ms. Reidy’s engineering class. “[Teachers] want me to talk about what’s relevant to their class,” he said, noting that he doesn’t always talk about security.

“Although,” he added, “it usually does devolve into asking me about what’s on my belt and things like that.”

The items on Officer Dowd’s belt, incidentally, include a gun, ammunition, a flashlight, handcuffs, latex gloves, a radio, an expandable baton, a Taser, and pepper spray. Dowd noted that he hasn’t yet had occasion to use any of them. “There’s been one scenario so far this year that I probably could have put cuffs on a person and brought them out of there,” he said. “There was no need to.” So far this year, Dowd has had to deal with “drug and alcohol issues, assaults, and threatening and bullying behavior,” but he mentioned that “from stories [he] heard,” the level of incidents occurring at AHS has been lower than he anticipated.

“I don’t know if that’s simply because I’m in the school, so that immediately causes some form of prevention, but I thought it was going to be higher,” he said. “I’m glad that it’s lower.”

Dowd feels that, for the most part, students have adjusted well to his presence, and he finds that the students are his favorite part about working at AHS. “I thought it would be longer before people really started to welcome me and open up to me, especially since it’s a lot for you guys to take in,” he said. “Suddenly there’s a cop in the school, there’s a lot of different rules, but there have been a lot of students that are coming up to me now and saying hello and telling me what schools they got accepted to, things like that. I’m really glad to hear about those things; I like that they feel comfortable enough to come up to me like that.”

He also feels well-received by the larger community of the high school. “The support I have received from teachers and the parents I have encountered has been outstanding,” he said. “Could there still be teachers or parents that disapprove of an armed policeman in the building? I am sure there could be, but if there [are], none have voiced their objection to me. I would not feel slighted if there was either…. All in all, I feel welcomed by the community of teachers, and I honestly hope I get used more and more in their classes and activities.”

Officer Dowd particularly hopes to address the aspects of his role he feels are most misunderstood. “I think when I first arrived, people felt I was here to bust as many students as I could, that I was going to be Dr. Lord’s attack dog, or that I was going to be some sort of storm trooper when it came to security,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong — I want to keep every soul in this building safe, but that can be done with a minimum of disruption to your school day. I think it is starting to show that I am not nearly as bad as what might have been originally thought.”

“I know I stand in the cafeteria and it looks like I’m a guard,” Dowd replied when asked if there was anything he particularly wanted readers to know. “But it’s mainly because a lot of the stuff that’s gonna happen, more likely it’s gonna happen either at the buses or in the foyer in the morning, or the cafeteria in the afternoon. Those are when things tend to escalate…so that’s why I’m there, the only reason why I’m there. I know it looks like I may be a guard watching over you guys like in a prison, but it’s just because – if I didn’t have to be there I wouldn’t. I try not to interrupt you guys…you guys are in class all day, you don’t get to see your friends, that’s your time to hang out…. I have no problem [talking to students if they call me over] because then I’m not intruding.”

“I’m more proactive than reactive I would hope,” he added. “That’s why I’m glad that I’ve actually heard from some students that just me being here, they see less of certain things going on, so I’m hoping that even without doing anything I’m immediately preventing stuff and then, if I work at it, more and more starts to get prevented and your school becomes more of where everybody can be in an environment that’s conducive to learning versus just some people.”

Dowd was also willing to discuss his personal hobbies. “I’m not tremendously old,” he said, “so I enjoy hanging out with my friends, just like you guys do. I play video games; I’m a big online gamer.” When asked what video games he enjoys, he said, “The usual. I play Halo, just like everybody else, I play Call of Duty, I’m into WoW. But like I said, friends [and family] are seriously important to me. I had friends that I met when I was still in high school…and before high school I should say. It’s important to me to keep that foundation.”

Students can turn to Dowd “whenever they need help with anything,” he said. “I may not be able to help directly, but I can work with other resources in the school. Obviously, if it concerns the law, or committing a crime or witnessing such actions, then I can help.”

He hopes that students remember that he is “here to make this school better.”

“I am new to this position as an SRO. I am learning, and in so doing I could use your help. I could use everyone’s help. I am not so proud as to think I know everything. If you have any suggestions on how I could do this job better, I welcome them. I need your help to make the school better, as well. This is your school, as Dr. Lord has told you; you should own it, take pride in it. I want to help with that.”