Every morning, when the buses arrive at Marshall High School, Master Police Officer (MPO) Thomas Harrington makes sure to walk the halls and say hello to students.
A couple of hours later, when students get a brief break, Harrington is out and about again, strolling through the building and greeting people in the hallways. He follows this routine during the lunch periods as well, and of course, he is always around as the buses depart in the afternoon.
"I do this to let the kids see a different side of a police officer, other than the guy who breaks up their Friday night party," said Harrington, who has been the School Resource Officer (SRO) at Marshall for 10 years.
In April, Harrington was named the 2006 Distinguished School Resource Officer by Fairfax County Public Schools. Harrington is one of the longest serving members in the SRO program.
"MPO Harrington has set the standard for how an SRO is expected to perform," said George Moskowitz, a second lieutenant with the Fairfax County Police Department, McLean District Station.
Moskowitz nominated Harrington for the Distinguished SRO honor.
"Because he is so deeply involved with the school and its community, the students and faculty of Marshall High School have learned to depend on MPO Harrington," said Moskowitz.
Harrington is involved in numerous school activities including ninth grade coffees with the principal, Freshman Retreat, Sophomore Lock-In, Ethics Day, all-night graduation parties, PTA meetings, athletic events and school dances. He said he enjoys working with the students, and that his successes with them have made his job "incredibly rewarding."
"I have an individual here that was an MS-13 [gang] member, and he came to me and we started to talk, and over the last two to three years he has pulled away from them," said Harrington. "I've also had other people come to me with problems at home that we've been able to address."
HARRINGTON OFTEN VISITS Marshall's Government classes to discuss fourth and sixth amendment rights. He reviews traffic laws with students, and plays a big role in working with the students to ensure safety during prom week. Harrington also helps to create and update course content for the police department's SRO training school, and is a regular participant in the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles’ drivers license ceremony. In addition, he is a certified instructor for the Sexual Assault Free and Empowerment (SAFE) program, and volunteers two or more nights a week to teach self defense skills to women.
Over the last 10 years, Harrington said he has definitely noticed a trend that he believes needs to be changed.
"Parents tend to back away from their children when they hit high school to try and give them their freedom, and I am a firm believer in not doing this," said Harrington. "This is when the peer pressure really starts, so parents need to be more involved. I know it's tough to do, but parents need to check on their kids and see who they are hanging out with and what they are doing after school."
Harrington said that involvement in after-school activities are a good way to keep kids on "the straight and narrow."
"I always encourage students to get involved in sports or theater, or something like that," he said.