A couple of years ago, Superintendent Jan La Torre-Derby was speaking with then-police officer Bill Welch about her latest predicament. The city no longer had the money to provide school resource police officers to local campuses, and Derby had to figure out a way to keep schools safe and occasionally deal with police-related disciplinary issues.
Welch suggested Derby look into hiring a company that's good with kids, good with parents and has a strong background in education. The only things a civilian couldn't do that a school resource officer could were make arrests and book perpetrators at juvenile hall or jail.
Derby asked if she could hire Welch — a Novato resident since 1966, a 1977 Novato High graduate and the son of a local school principal. The answer was no, but things changed when Welch had to go on disability after neck surgery.
"I figured I could do all those things she was looking for, plus more," Welch said.
Welch created his own company, North Bay Security Group, and has been working with the district for more than a year now. He and his staff have become an integral part of the day-to-day operations at school campuses, according to a release from the school district.
The group has participated with administrators and counselors in addressing and resolving all sorts of student issues since the was forced to reduce its staff and eliminate school resource officer positions. Between December 2010 and September 2011, group personnel made 153 home visits, addressed 122 truancy issues and provided staff training on dealing with gangs, cyberbullying and drug use.
In addition, group personnel have served on 11 Student Attendance Review Board panels, participated in student attendance review teams and aided in individual education plans.
“Bill Welch has a phenomenal response time. He takes every issue seriously, and has excellent follow-up," Megan Pettis, assistant principal, said in the district release. "He always asks, ‘How is this kid doing?’ after he has dealt with them."
Welch and his team visit all 14 NUSD campuses every day and conduct 13 foot patrols during lunch or at break time at the middle and high schools. They see an average of 50-100 kids per month for a variety of issues.
Is it working? North Bay Security Group's daily presence on the campuses and ability to work with administrators have reduced the number of calls to the police department as issues are dealt with in-house. And the cost to the district is less than what it would have been had it taken over financial responsibility for school resource officers.
Welch said under the previous setup the school resource officers would only visit each campus about 15 hours per week. Welch and his three part-time employees are canvassing in the campuses for about 80 hours per week between the four of them, and eight of the 14 schools get a visit every school day.
"I think they're getting more bang for their buck," Welch said. "Police calls for service have been reduced 50 percent on our campuses. For instance, if there's a fight between students, we can handle 90 percent of those in-house."
KEEPING KIDS IN SCHOOL
Welch, husband of police Sgt. Jennifer Welch, meets with police staff on a regular basis and represents NUSD at the School Law Enforcement Partnership monthly meetings at the Marin County Office of Education. In addition, he is a member of the Novato Blue Ribbon Coalition and co-chairs the Alcohol and Other Drugs Committee for Healthy Novato.
One of the group's goals is to keep kids enrolled in school. Thus far, Welch and his team have encouraged five students to return to school after dropping out. The company has handled about 20 interventions in which Welch's team has worked with administrators to help find the best solution and placement for students.
Eileen Smith, principal at , said Welch's presence at Student Attendance Review Team meetings has been extremely helpful.
"He is respectful to each and every family member, yet sends a strong message of the importance of sending students to school on time each day," she said. "He has been very helpful at Loma Verde, providing support with the anti-bullying policy. He meets with students as needed and reinforces the rules."
Welch's crew works 40 hours a week with Novato schools and many times takes two or three calls per week after hours from parents whose child is in crisis or giving support and guidance to parents.
A YEAR LATER
NUSD Superintendent Shalee Cunningham, who took over for the retired Derby last year, said the district is fortunate to have North Bay Security Group working with the district children, parents and staff.
"It is evident that Bill’s work at the schools, the close working relationship he has forged with the principals, office staff, parents — and most importantly students ... translates to district staff knowing our kids and knowing what is working to address their issues," she said.
Welch said he's learned that most disciplinary incidents are one-time-only events, but the police get involved if a gang connection is discovered. He said he hopes parents are at ease about the safety of local school campuses.
"This is a passion for me. I want to make a difference," Welch said. "I know the schools have financial issues, and I just want to give back to the community I grew up in. I have five kids of my own. Corny as is sounds, that's what it's about."
MEET THE TEAM
In addition to Welch, North Bay Security Group also includes Pat Armitage, John Williams and Julie Sobaszkiewicz.
A retired police officer, Welch has lived in Novato since 1965 and is a Novato High graduate. His assignments on police forces in Novato and Sausalito included Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), motorcycles, detectives, child forensic interviewing, field training and canine patrol.
Armitage is a retired police lieutenant from the city of Sausalito with nearly 20 years of law enforcement experience at the federal, state and municipal levels. He was a field training officer, defensive tactics instructor, traffic officer, detective, dive team member, patrol sergeant and patrol lieutenant. He also was a patrolman at the Sonoma State University police department.
Williams worked as a probation assistant at juvenile hall in Sacramento while attending Sacramento State University, from which he received a degree in criminal justice. He worked as a policy officer for nearly 14 years with five of those working as a detective at the Petaluma Policy Department. He has also worked as a background investigator, hazardous materials incident commander and a field training officer.
Sobaszkiewicz is a retired Marin County deputy sheriff. In her 20-year career there, she was assigned to custody, patrol, DARE for K-5 graders and as a domestic violence liaison for Marin Abused Women’s Services.