News & Features » Miscellany

The president wants more cops in the classroom. A day in the life of one who's already there.

Pounding the Linoleum


Officer Bob Woodburn emerges from a doorway and begins a slow, steady stride down the hall. He's a hefty, imposing figure. His radio is in hand. Gun is belted to his right hip. Silver police badge, No. 116, is pinned to the shirt pocket over his heart.

It is Tuesday morning at Harry F. Byrd Middle School. For Woodburn, the school's resource officer, it is time to pound the linoleum.

Jobs like Woodburn's aren't unusual anymore. Henrico County's eight high schools and 10 middle schools all have them. Nor are resource officers low-profile. A series of school shootings have shed more light on their importance in the last few years. And in April, President Bush proposed a fiscal 2002 budget for the Department of Justice that would spend $180 million to put about 1,500 police officers in schools throughout the country.

8:54 a.m.

Woodburn walks into the hall, which is enjoying a much-deserved rest. About 45 minutes ago some 1,150 teen-agers bumped and bobbled their way to class like a thousand Ping-Pong balls dumped down an air duct.

Now the hall is occupied by a single young girl, books clutched to her chest, who is late for class. She smiles at Woodburn, who is 5-feet-10 and about four times her size.

"Good morning, good morning," Woodburn says. "How are you today?"

She smiles and heads down the hall, her flip-flops slapping between her heels and the floor.

Woodburn keeps going too. He takes a left down another hall, past the cafeteria and through a door to the outside. "We've just gotta make that morning tour," he says. He starts his lap along the west of the building and around the perimeter to determine whether the doors that are supposed to be locked are, indeed, locked.

A door to a locker room is propped open, but that's OK, he explains. A coach's office is right there. Plus, he adds, it probably needs airing out. The sounds of PE class and middle-school band practice seep outside.

9:05 a.m.

The voice of Peggy, a school secretary, comes over his radio. Telephone call, she says. Woodburn thinks it's probably the assistant commonwealth's attorney for Henrico County, who will be the guest speaker for the student law-enforcement club, which Woodburn sponsors. The club meets later today.

Woodburn returns to the front of the school, into the main office and into the wing where the guidance counselors work. That's his office, at the end of the hallway, with cinder-block walls and a bulletin board with yellow police tape as a border.

He picks up the telephone, but it's not the attorney. It's a colleague at another school. "Yeah, what's going on?" he asks. "Everything's quiet here, too."

His work at the school is quite different from the policing he got into in Henrico at age 22. Then he was a plainclothes narcotics officer. He wore a big beard and went undercover. He followed surly characters into other states. He was on a strike force. But three years ago he saw a posting for this job. It was completely different, he says, but he figured it would be a way to tackle societal problems early. He could help kids when they faced tough decisions. He could be a resource, an extension of the community. And he could still help protect. He applied for the job and got it.

"When it gets down to it," Woodburn says, "I do very little 'traditional' police work here."

9:32 a.m.

Woodburn checks with Peggy in the front office, who compiles the unexcused absence report. A boy wearing a Richmond Renegades T-shirt lumbers in. Glue accident in art class, he says; he needs to call home to get another shirt. Woodburn directs him to the phone, chats with some student aides, then walks to the library to check on the librarian. A week or so ago, she fell while spraying wasps and ended up with a 6-inch gash in her leg. She's doing OK.

Woodburn, who wears a mustache and has a slight David Letterman gap between his two front teeth, goes back to his office and digs a slip of paper out of his pocket. A phone number is written on it. "There's an attendance issue I've got to get straight," he says. He doesn't sound happy.

10 a.m.

The bell rings, and sixth-graders attack the hallway. Woodburn, his fists the size of softballs, stands watch over a blur of bookbags, cargo shorts and Abercrombie & Fitch shirts. A girl in overalls passes, leaning back to balance a mountain of books. There are squeals and chatter. Four minutes later, seventh- and eighth-graders spill into the hall. In another four minutes, it's empty again.

10:10 a.m.

There's another phone call for Woodburn. He takes the call in the nearby office of a vice principal. The office features a collection of Pez dispensers, and on a shelf there is a news article about a recent school shooting. The headline: "Santana was prepared but tragedy struck anyway."

11:29 a.m.

The assistant commonwealth's attorney who is Woodburn's guest speaker, Roger Frydrychowski, arrives at the office. Woodburn shakes his hand, leads him back to his desk and types up a brief bio for the club's student president, who will introduce him at the meeting. It's good for the students to get public-speaking experience, Woodburn says.

11:50 a.m.

Inside an empty art classroom, 26 students pick seats for Woodburn's club meeting. He hands the typed bio to the club's student president. "Ooh, look at his last name," she says, showing a friend, who commiserates. She practices the pronunciation of "Frydrychowski." Then she introduces him, and the meeting begins.

12:29 p.m.

When the club meeting ends, Woodburn thanks Frydrychowski and walks to the cafeteria. One lunch shift is over. Two remain. "Welcome to the jungle," he says under his breath and walks into the room. There is a steady roar — the kind made only by adolescents. A smell of peanut butter and spaghetti sauce hangs in the air.

"Miss Kirby, double dessert today?" he jokes to a passing teacher. He hangs out with a group of boys, one of whom needs a quarter for lunch. Woodburn slips him one from his pocket. There is a chocolate-milk spill, which two students blame on each other. Woodburn gets a mop and cleans it up.

Woodburn likes to eat with the eighth-graders, who come in next. After watching them get settled, he takes a spot in the back of the lunch line and orders spaghetti with meatballs. A cafeteria worker goes in the back and returns with some hot rolls for him.

1:56 p.m.

Lunch is over. Woodburn dumps his tray and returns to his office. He checks his computer and finds 20 e-mails from the county. He has two employers, really — the school and the police department. Tomorrow, he'll help perform a truancy sweep across the county with a group of officers.

3:15 p.m.

The bell rings to announce the end of the day. Students bang doors to push their way out. Woodburn is milling along a breezeway on the east side of the school with the bus drivers, who have parked bumper to bumper in a long line. He'll try to see the buses off by 3:22, he explains.

3:22 p.m.

The buses pull out. Exhaust fumes mix with pollen in the hot air. The students are mostly gone. The school exhales. Woodburn turns and walks into the building. He stops to talk with a boy who is still packing his bookbag. Then he heads back to his

Add a comment