School Resource Officers going beyond safety in Muskingum County


Jessica Johnston

Landerman sits at a table of high school students during their lunch period at Zanesville High School.

By Jessica Johnston, Assistant News Director

Tom Landerman has been with the Zanesville Police Department for 28 years, four of those past 28 years have been spent in school.

As a school resource officer at Zanesville High School, Landerman wears a lot of different hats.

He begins his day by setting up the parking lot to keep the chaos of drop-off safe for students walking into school. He then stands inside the doors of the building and greets nearly every student by name.

“There’s 850, roughly 850 kids in this school, I can probably name 600 of them. So, when (they) walk in the front door I don’t just say, ‘good morning, guys,’ I address them by name when they walk in,” Landerman said. “Some of them I know their first names, some of them I know their last name, some of them I know their nickname.”

That’s just the start to his day. When Landerman isn’t with a student or addressing problems, he does everything down to answering phones and writing tardy slips for anyone coming in late.

During his first year as an SRO, Landerman said there were about 73 kids in the ZCS district with charges brought against them. His second year, that number was reduced to 14 and one more dropped off to make for 13 his third year.

“The very first year I was here, this place was a mess,” Landerman said. “I mean, my first week I was here and I was like, ‘What in the world was I thinking, why did I leave working the street to do this?’ because it was chaotic everyday.”

Throughout the past four years, Landerman believes that just his presence in the school has made a world of difference in the behavior of the students, and in the amount of charges being brought against the kids.

Landerman said he “can’t go anywhere in this town” without students approaching him or even hugging him at the mall or when he’s at the grocery store with his wife.

“The parents are like, ‘Why you hugging (him), who’s that?’ and then they explain who I am and then the parents are eager to meet me, ‘Oh, we hear about you but we didn’t know who you were,’” Landerman said about kids coming up to him outside of school.

Beyond the badge

While school resource officers are employed to ensure the safety and security of students and staff, Landerman goes above and beyond his required duties to help the staff and students.

“Sometimes they’ll miss the bus and I’ll go pick them up, once. I’ll go pick them up once,” Landerman said. “A lot of times we’ll go pick them up if they intentionally miss, if they just don’t want to go to school, we’ll go pick them up once, me and truant officer. We’ll go pick them up once, we lecture them all the way here.”

There’s an ongoing joke about a “club” that Landerman runs, he calls it the JDC (juvenile detention center) club. He said he always offers to let students join, but over the last few years, no students have wanted to join his exclusive group.

“They all know what the JDC club is, I tell them, I say ‘I’ll take you on a field trip whenever you want to go, we’ll go on a field trip to the JDC club,’” Landerman said. “We don’t provide transportation back once we take you, and it’s kind of an ongoing joke.”

Landerman’s good standing with the students goes further than the light-hearted banter. He’s one of many staff members within ZCS that lends an extra hand to struggling students.

Whether it’s providing a backpack to a student that doesn’t have one, to getting a coat for a kid that walked to school and didn’t have one, to buying a new pair of shoes for a student that couldn’t afford them.

“Last week we had a boy here who was wearing size 9 shoe and he was a size 10 foot and his toes (were) sticking completely through his shoes. So, one of the teachers recognized it and we found what we needed to get him on his way,” Landerman said. “He walked in the lunchroom and you would’ve thought he had a brand new pair of $400 Jordans on. I mean, he was just showing everybody his old shoes and, ‘Look what I got,’ and he had his feet up on the table.”

Safety and Security

Being a good influence and mentor to the students is important, but an SRO’s main job is to ensure the safety and security of every student and staff member in the building.

Landerman said, while he hopes that a serious incident will never happen at his school, he’s confident in his presence on campus.

Prior to Landerman’s time with the schools, he said it would take police officers about six minutes to respond to the school during a fight or other issue. Not a bad response time, but he said that during that time teachers would have to get involved.

In order to keep the peace and ensure safety throughout the building, Landerman said he can never be found in his designated office. He’s constantly around the school monitoring and helping out.

While Landerman said he’s walked three students out of Zanesville High School this year in handcuffs, he’s often apologized to upon students coming back to school after such incidents.

“They’re coming back to school and they’re apologizing like, ‘Landerman I should’ve never put you in the spot, I just had a bad day,’ or whatever happened,” Landerman said.

Not only are the students thankful for his presence, but the staff treats him like he’s “royalty,” Landerman said.

“Mr. Landerman does an outstanding job, he does an outstanding job. A great asset to our building,” Zanesville High School Principal Laura Tompkins said as she walked by.

Landerman is still a few years away from retirement and hopes to finish out his career in law enforcement at Zanesville High School. He said he’s been good for the building, but the school, staff specifically, has been exceptionally great to him, as well.

“It’s definitely made an impact with me being here. Now, it could have been any officer that could have done this, it’s not necessarily me, I’m not the hero,” Landerman said. “I didn’t do all this, but the relationship I have with all the kids has certainly helped the environment here as far as security (and) safety. Overall it’s just a good environment now.”