School Resource Officer David Tatsak finishes up some notes for an upcoming presentation at his desk. His office is located in the heart of Carroll High School at 800 North White Chapel Boulevard, his door blends in with other administrators, save for a sticky note that reads “THANK YOU FOR KEEPING US SAFE.” He glances at his watch and walks into the hallway.
“I want the students to be familiar with police before they graduate, because that’s an education in itself,” he says.
In a time of school shootings and increasing violence on campuses, trust in an armed School Resource Officer could very well be the difference between life and death. Officer Tatsak and the administration pride themselves in that they can evacuate the school in and out quickly. They have active shooter protocols that include locking the door, covering the door window with a piece of felt (found on every door), getting away from the doors and windows, and being silent. During the drills, Officer Tatsak will patrol up and down the hallway, making sure the rules are followed and ensuring there is silence. If an active shooter were on campus, they’d want to kill as many students and faculty as possible and loud talking or giggling could give away locations. But today is just a normal day.
With a few minutes before the class change, Officer Tatsak finds a spot to stand where he will be as visible as possible. He knows the rooms and the maze-like hallways of the school like the back of his hand. After all, he’s the front line of defense for over 1,400 students and 100 teachers and staff. Today he stands in the main foyer on the first floor, coffee in hand. The halls are empty, but that will change in a moment.
With the sheer amount of students here, there are of course students that he knows better than others. Since the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, Officer Tatsak has worked about 20 cases. Those have primarily included drugs, truancy, and fake IDs. He also has five documented cases of bullying so far.
The administration and Officer Tatsak are aware of the students that cause the biggest issues. To prevent escalation, he makes sure to check on them two to three times a day, always greeting them, and always calling them by name. He’ll monitor their social media, talk to parents if need be, and make an extra effort to nurture the relationship. He’ll get them involved in projects he’s working on like the upcoming mock accident presentation called “Game Over.” Not only will the student be involved with the project, but Officer Tatsak will give them ownership in it, which brings a sense of pride and accomplishment.
For some, Officer Tatsak is the first time to interact daily with a police officer up close and personal. They can see his very real gun and his very real body armor. Many students only know about cops from what television and movies and gossip have told them. That cops are shooting unarmed minorities. That they’re kicking in doors every 911 call. That they write oodles and oodles of speeding tickets up Davis Boulevard. But Officer Tatsak, like every cop, is aware of these perceptions, and he’s made it his mission to change them.
“I always aim to nurture the kids, though it’s not always the warm and fuzzy variety,” he says. “Game Over” is a good example of Officer Tatsak getting real with the students. He coordinates the two day event, in which a mock distracted driving or DWI crash is played out in front of students. This year, the fictional crash involves a student actor who will play a popular, most likely to succeed kind of guy. He’ll be drunk or distracted and crash and kill a teacher. With the gravity of these situations, Officer Tatsak doesn’t hold back. As the student council writes the script, he orders B&B Wrecker Service to bring in totaled cars, he schedules Careflight, the Medical Examiner, and Southlake Fire to all come out, and he preps makeup techs to make sure to show the true gore and chaos of an accident scene. To further illustrate the fact that every quarter hour someone is killed by distracted driving or DWI, he sends in a Grim Reaper to pull students out of class every 15 minutes.
Officer Tatsak has been a police officer for over 18 years and has seen it all. “His ability to communicate lessons to the student body in a way that’s honest and open is the key to his success,” says Chief James Brandon. “He’s taught about the dangers of social media, internet safety, distracted driving, and the perils of drugs and alcohol. Working with the students face to face helps build the bonds of trust and further show he is there for them. If they have a problem, the know where to find him.”
The tone signaling the class change sounds, and the hallways fill with an endless sea of students. Officer Tatsak doesn’t miss a beat and he greets students by their name, giving a fist bump here and a high five there. These are his kids, and he’ll die to protect them.