LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Officer Keith Kwiatkowski believes that building relationships and connections through the community happens through the kids.
A 13-year veteran of the Lackawanna Police Department, Kwiatkowski has been working with one of the Lackawanna City School District’s elementary school buildings for the past 12 years. But for the first time in the district’s history, they now have a dedicated school resource officer (SRO) — him.
“I really believe that that’s where you make the inroads through the community, is through the kids,” Kwiatkowski said.
It’s a community he’s lived in for the past two decades. As the new SRO, Kwiatkowski says he’s able to help the community move forward and build connections with people as they grow up and later become adults.
“The kids really benefit from any type of positive role models they can find,” Kwiatkowski said. “And especially being a police officer, I feel that that’s super important that the kids get to see somebody who’s a positive role model and, kind of, dispels the things that they see in the news sometimes.”
It’s about building trust and getting to know the students on a personal basis, helping them overcome any kinds of barriers they may be facing, Kwiatkowski said. And that comes through a variety of mediums.
With that, Kwiatkowski serves on the safety committees at each school building. He helps in the development of safety plans and performs safety audits, too.
Each day, Kwiatkowski makes it a point to visit each of the district’s five schools. Just Thursday morning, he was showing kids ranging in age from Pre-K to 1st Grade how to safely handle themselves during a fire drill.
“For a lot of those kids, it’s the first time they’ve ever been in a building, in a school setting,” he said.
So for those kids, there are a lot of questions, like why the alarm is so loud. Thankfully, Kwiatkowski brought a book to help explain that.
“You don’t obviously have fire drills at home, so, it’s a totally different dynamic,” he said.
Kwiatkowski works with school leaders on events like this, and he says there’s more coming in the future, including safety and security presentations at all the buildings, making sure age-appropriate needs are addressed.
Throughout the district, Lackawanna utilizes Raptor Security Systems, which require all visitors to have identification to get into a school. It helps them know whether or not someone should be allowed in, and if they’ve been there before.
Going beyond security systems though, Kwiatkowski says school safety is also in the hands and words of the students.
“The big thing is being aware, and stressing that if there’s something that you see that doesn’t seem right, that you speak up and you say something.”
In terms of safety, Kwiatkowski spoke highly of the direction Lackawanna is going in and said he’s “humbled and super proud to be the first SRO in Lackawanna history.”
In the first weeks of school, Kwiatkowski says he’s seen a lot of positive things, including teachers and administrators being present and engaging with students so that they know someone cares.
“I know a lot of the kids already from when they were younger, and now they’re at different schools. They’re at the middle school or high school, and I get to see them again and they’re super happy.”
For the last couple of years, before he officially became the SRO, Kwiatkowski says he’d been trying to do more with the kids. Now, he has those opportunities to make an impact on a daily basis.
“I just want the parents to know that we’re doing everything we can to keep their kids just as safe as I would keep mine.”
New on WIVB.com
Evan Anstey is an Associated Press Award, JANY Award and Emmy-nominated digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2015. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.