Citrus County Sheriff's Deputy Dan Weaks has been a school resource officer for eight years, all at Lecanto High School. He graduated from Crystal River High in 1986, and was recognized in 2016 as the American Legion’s Law Officer of the Year as well as the Forty and Eight’s Law Officer of the Year. Chronicle reporter Carly Zervis spent some time with Deputy Weaks at Lecanto High School on Thursday. The conversation has been edited for length.
Chronicle: What do you find that your relationship with the kids is like?
Weaks: Pretty relaxed, pretty good relationship. In a high school it’s a little bit different than elementary -- in elementary, it’s more Officer Friendly -- not that I’m not friendly, but as you move through the spectrum of what we do, high school is more law enforcement. Of the three things that we concentrate on -- counseling, education pieces, and law enforcement -- obviously we’re doing more law enforcement at the high school level.
Chronicle: What kind of extra training do you have to go through to be an SRO?
Weaks: We go through the SRO basic training, which is in conjunction -- typically -- with the annual Florida School Resource Officers’ Association conference. So there’s usually a basic class that we all go through, and it covers a wide variety of topics, from the history of the program to special things that are unique to the school environment and school policing. I want to say it’s 40 hours. And that’s in addition to all the other law enforcement training.
Chronicle: What do you guys do in the summer?
Weaks: We do a lot of things. We have done things such as augment the detectives and help them, we go to D.C. on the fifth-grade trips, we hold Sheriff’s Youth Ranch summer camps that we call Harmony on the Streets.
Chronicle: What’s the goal of those programs?
Weaks: I can’t speak for the Sheriff’s Youth Ranch, but it is an extension of their residential sites — like here in Levy County there’s Caruth, which I’ve been to two or three times. We spend the whole week out there with the kids, it’s more of a camp environment. The camps that we have here is like any day camp, deputies go there and try to be positive role models. Other things we do in the summer -- vacation. The nine months of the school year, we limit the vacation time that we take.
Chronicle: If you got sick, who takes your place -- if you can’t be here at school for a day?
Weaks: Well, fortunately on this campus there’s a middle school and an elementary school right there -- and Renaissance is down the street and they have an SRO, so they can be easily called if I’m out or if they’re out, the same thing. Other than that -- say, a different school without backup so close -- a road deputy could temporarily fill that spot.
Chronicle: What’s your favorite part of being an SRO instead of, say, a road deputy?
Weaks: I like that I can take my time and work with people, and not feel rushed -- I could have a kid for four years that I can impact, and I like to be able to do that. We get to know parents and the kids real well, and see them go off to college.
Chronicle: What do you think of having metal detectors, say, at the front office, at an entrance? Would that be valuable?
Weaks: This is Dan Weaks’s opinion...it’s a deterrent, but it’s a big campus. Does it have value? Yeah. Then there’s the ugliness of it, to be honest -- that we’d go through metal detectors in Citrus County schools, that’s a big thing for people.
Chronicle: What do you think is the best way to spend money earmarked for hardening schools?
Weaks: We’re already fencing in the schools, with an emphasis on single-point entry at elementary and middle schools. That’s more difficult with high school kids, they’re more independent. I’m a proponent of full-time SROs during the school day, entry control -- and things we have, like cameras.
Chronicle: Do you find that kids come to you with concerns, or do they mostly go to guidance counselors -- or does it depend on the kid?
Weaks: It depends on the kid. And it’s good that we’re here for that option -- they can come to me or go to an assistant principal, too.
Chronicle: Do you find that a valuable part of your job is just being around to build that trust with the kids? What’s your approach to getting to know them?
Weaks: Definitely. Just saying hi to a kid in the hallway -- or any human being, really -- can be of immense value. I realize that some people, some kids, don’t have maybe the best life at home and nobody’s greeted them in who knows how long. I think one of the most impactful things, as far as me getting to know the kids, is I go to every freshman health class and spend four days of their class time with them, teaching what we call ‘Choices.’ We talk about drugs, alcohol, tobacco...and there’s a piece called ‘Crime and consequences.’ Along with all that education is interacting with me -- seeing that I’m human, I have a wife and grandkids and stuff, and that’s huge -- just going into that classroom like that. Since we’ve been doing it, huge payoff as far as law enforcement relationship with kids.