SARASOTA, Fla. -- For two straight weeks, Officer Dominic Harris made the daily drive past the Booker High School campus to the home of a student whom the principal, Dr. Rachel Shelley, described as “chronically absent”. Officer Harris knocked on the kid’s bedroom door every morning until that teenager was ready for school.
Above and beyond is in Harris’ job description.
“He’s relatable,” one Booker student said through a mouthful of Doritos chips. “He gets to know each and every one of us individually."
The school resource officer, the one with a personalized parking sign with his face on it in front of his Sarasota police cruiser, pours his heart into Booker. He wants it to shine.
After all, he went there decades ago.
“I’m not as mean as the picture makes me out to be but I can get there,” he said with a laugh, standing next to his parking space sign. “I have to come across that way until they find out I’m on their team.”
The 1991 Booker graduate has taken on the role of school resource officer for the past two years at his alma mater. Almost immediately, he made an impact.
“He’s definitely well liked,” said senior Cody Brown. “He’s cool though. He’s like a student.”
Officer Harris, who was a track and basketball star during his high school days, roams the hallways high-fiving students on their way to class. He shares a smile and a laugh with many of them. Some students engage in a choreographed handshake with the officer as they pass by.
It’s all a common sight at Booker.
“Because they relate to him, crime has decreased on our campus,” said Assistant Principal Darby Larkin. “I’ve spent 28 years in this district and I’ve worked with lots and lots of school resource officers, all of them fantastic, and none of them touch Officer Harris.”
Patrolling his old hallway wasn’t exactly what Harris envisioned when he left Booker in the early 1990s. He was born and raised in public housing in nearby Newtown, just a few minutes from Booker. He returned to the area after playing basketball in college and started working as a plumber.
Then, he got a phone call asking if he’d be interested in becoming an officer. A few years later, he landed at Booker.
“My whole thing is making these kids believe in themselves,” he said, holding his signature sunglasses.
Next to Harris’ desk sat a T-shirt with that same photo on the front as the one on his parking space sign with the words, ‘Don’t Get Jammed Up’ across the chest.
Harris laughs when looking at it.
“They sold out,” he said with a smile.
Students designed the shirts as a fundraiser for school activities and sold them for $15. The line ‘Don’t Get Jammed Up’ is a phrase Harris made popular in early speeches to students in the auditorium, warming them he’d “jam them up” if he caught them with drugs or weapons on campus.
The Sarasota officer's memorable phrase earned the student’s respect.
“He’s just somebody who will be there for me and somebody I can talk to if I need him,” said Isaac Cedeno, who is part of Harris’ on-campus mentor group called Brotherhood of Men. “He wants everybody else to do better in life.”
Back out in the courtyard students wave to Harris as he patrols the lunch area. Many approach him to say hi. One girl asks him if he’s going to the upcoming prom.
“I’ll be there,” he assures her.
For the officer with such a deep connection to his school and his students, where else would he rather be?
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