Get to know Jessica Greisinger, North Salem schools’ second school resource officer
When a Pequenakonck Elementary School student meets Jessica Greisinger, one of the first things they notice is her belt. Greisinger, 30, is a Westchester County School Resource Officer, recently assigned to cover PQ. Her police officer’s belt can be intimidating or fascinating, depending on the student.
“I say it’s like a superhero belt; there are tools for different things,” Greisinger said.
Helping students understand what police officers do while also making them feel safe and secure at school is at the heart of a School Resource Officer’s work. Greisinger served as an NYPD police officer for seven years before transitioning to the Westchester County Police Department’s public safety division. In March, she became the second SRO to serve North Salem, joining Officer Sean Armstrong, who has been working in the district for the past several years.
Greisinger, a Brewster High School grad, sees parallels between her past work as a community police officer in the Bronx and her work now as a School Resource Officer.
“A school is its own community. You have a more personal level; you’re a familiar face,” Greisinger said. As a community police officer, Greisinger would hold meetings with community members to stay informed on issues they were facing and establish herself as a resource. “It got to the point that I was ‘Officer Jessica’,” she recalled with a smile.
At PQ, Greisinger is again working to establish herself as a trusted resource for the community she serves - one that includes about 400 children between the ages of 5 and 11, along with their parents and families, and the faculty at PQ. She’s been pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome she immediately received. In her first few days on the job, Greisinger had parents approach her to thank her for her service. Some waved to her from their cars or flashed their lights during morning drop-off in a show of gratitude.
“I felt right at home,” Greisinger said.
In Westchester County, the School Resource Officer program places a heavy emphasis on establishing relationships and building trust. “It’s not just being a face at the front door in the morning,” said Kieran O’Leary, public information officer for the Westchester County Police Department. “We have a great relationship with North Salem Schools; the SROS are really part of the team and embedded in a lot of things.”
Ten days after Officer Greisinger began working at PQ Elementary, a 28-year-old opened fire inside an elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee, killing three adults and three children. The massacre was a grim reminder that SROs aren’t simply tasked with relationship building; they are also expected to put their lives on the line in the event of an emergency.
“When you hear that something like that has happened, it hits closer to home,” Greisinger said. “You’re like, I'm here, that could have been me.”
It’s an unsettling feeling, knowing that the worst could one day happen, and having no way to guarantee that it won’t. Greisinger said she copes by staying on top of her training, staying educated in best practices for policing and paying close attention to the kids she serves. “You might see a kid who seems off; you try to nip something in the bud before it gets worse,” she said.
The Westchester County Police Department requires that School Resource Officers undergo extensive training in order to be prepared for nearly any scenario. Specialized training covers a range of topics including autism awareness, active shooter, mental health, implicit bias and procedural justice, among others.
Each month, Officer Greisinger and Officer Armstrong participate in a meeting that brings together police officers and educators from across Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Dutchess Counties to discuss issues related to improving school safety and community policing. “The idea is to share info, collaborate and learn from each other,” O’Leary said. “Nobody knows better than educators what their environment is and what’s going to work best. The police community in Westchester County is very open to hearing from educators about how to reach kids, and the best way to create a good environment.”
Greisinger knows intuitively that the best way to create a positive environment for kids is to be there for them each day, no matter what. “I like being around kids,” she said. “I like being there for their good days and their bad days.”