Students started the school year with an added line of protection. Sergeant Franz Mahler, a retired state trooper, is Kettle Run’s new school security officer, SSO.
Following the Parkland school shooting that claimed the lives of 17 people, students nationwide held protests demanding safer schools. Dr. David Jeck, superintendent of Fauquier County Public Schools, listened. Jeck created 15 new school-security positions; 12 of which are SSOs. The 12 SSOs underwent extensive training, as required by the Code of Virginia and approved by the Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office, including firearms qualification and active shooter training.
Mahler works alongside Officer Jeff Tindle, Kettle Run’s school resource officer, to keep students safe. Although both positions are security, there is a key difference.
“The SSOs are employees of the school division and are certified by the school board to carry weapons,” Jeck said. “They report to school based administration. SROs are employed by the Sheriff’s Office and are sworn officers. They report to the Sheriff.”
They are part of the new School Security Officer program in Fauquier County, which is adjunct to the existing School Resource Officer (SRO) program. Officer Tindle, who is already here at Kettle Run, is an SRO. A fairly new Virginia law allows the school to certify these school security officers to carry weapons. However, Mahler and the other SSOs don’t currently carry. Many people were worried that this wouldn’t make him as useful in case of an emergency. Mahler gave assurance that he would soon be armed.
“The school board submitted a memorandum of understanding, which is needed to establish the guidelines between the school board and the sheriff’s office,” said Mahler, “It is necessary because only the Sheriff can provide such firearms, active shooter, and emergency evacuation.” Mahler himself and Officer Sal Torelli, the SSO at Fauquier High School, wrote text of the memorandum.
“Once both sides agree to the document, it will be signed by the school superintendent and the Sheriff,” said Mahler. “After that happens, then the school security officers will be armed. Hopefully this will occur sometime in the middle of October.”
One important distinction between the SROs and the SSOs is who they are employed by. While the security officers are employed by the school division, they are interviewed, hired, and trained by the Sheriff’s Office before they are turned over to the school division.
According to Mahler, there is another main difference between the SROs and the SSOs regarding what they enforce. Because he is employed by the school system and not the sheriff’s office, the SSO enforces school policy, not criminal law like the SRO. However, Mahler said, “I can assist with investigations when those investigations lead to a criminal aspect I must notify the SRO.” Since Mahler is employed by the school, he can search students just based on reasonable suspicion while Tindle must search in accordance with state and federal law.
Sgt. Mahler has a lot of experience for this job. Mahler said, “It is my sincere hope that I can use my 30 years of experience as a Virginia State Trooper/Sergeant to strengthen the security here. I am a certified crime prevention specialist which allows me to conduct security surveys on various types of structures.” Having spent most of his adult life serving Virginia, Mahler knew he wanted this new job when the opportunity presented itself. “With my background, I knew I could make a positive impact on the students of this school,” said Mahler, “I take this job very seriously.”
All these new developments were partly in response to the recent wave of mass shootings, particularly those that occured at schools like Stoneman Douglas. As tragedy struck, many people called for increased school safety, particularly in the form of trained, armed officers. While they are trained for action if something dangerous should happen, the SSOs are also here to preemptively stop those terrible situations.
“I hope that these SSOs develop good relationships with students and head off any potentials problems before they occur,” said Dr. Jeck, “The SSO program is designed to further enhance the safety of our schools, so that is what we hope to gain from this relationship.”
Part of Mahler’s job is securing and checking the exterior and interior doors and random checks of the restrooms and other rooms in the building. He will also begin stalking social media to stop suspicious activity before it becomes dangerous.
To those who have had the privilege of speaking with Sgt. Mahler, they would say that he is in fact a very nice man. He is happy to serve and help the students. He said, “I can say from the minute I knew I was going to Kettle Run I was very excited. Everyone here has treated me like family. Everyone has been very kind to me. I has been a real pleasure working here at Kettle Run.” We the students also thank Sergeant Mahler, for stepping up to serve, for keeping us safe, and for just being a friendly face and greeting as we walk in school each morning.