Cape Coral school resource officer on what it takes to protect children

Published: August 5, 2022 6:26 AM EDT
Updated: August 5, 2022 8:01 AM EDT

Each Southwest Florida school campus has a school resource officer tasked with making sure children come home alive and safe. WINK News anchor Corey Lazar spent some time with one Cape Coral SRO who says he is ready to put his life on the line if violence breaks out.

Inside the hallways of Caloosa Elementary School, located at 620 Del Prado Blvd. S., Cape Coral police officer Joe Zalenski is the man on the front lines.

“We started naming our hallways much like we do our streets outside, Zalenski said. “One of the things we’re going to do this coming year is we’re going to put ease ws ss and ends at the bulkheads of the doors. So that way your responding officers know which direction you come in here. If you’re not familiar with the school, it’s a lot like a maze.”

Cape Coral police officer Joe Zalenski, school resource officer at Caloosa Elementary. Credit: WINK News

Inside that maze, Zalenski constantly keeps his eye on every way people can get hurt. In fact, as WINK prepared to interview him, Zalenski saw something wasn’t quite right with the front door, so he rushed over to get it fixed. A school resource officer has to plan for every situation.

“My building supervisor, Scott, is just terrific about responding to it and getting it handled, he’s incredibly responsive,” Zalenski said. “Today, if we had students in here, I would make sure that this door was shut. And, as you can see, this is unlocked. So, I’ll do one or two things: I’ll either lock it myself, or I will request the teacher to lock it.”

Cape Coral police officer Joe Zalenski locks a door while demonstrating safety procedures at Caloosa Elementary School. Credit: WINK News

That single door lock can buy Zalenski seconds in a life-or-death situation, provided it is locked. And for an SRO, seconds could mean lives.

“I need to make them stop what they’re doing, and they can surrender,” Zalenski said. “We’ll take them into custody, [or] they can go barricade by themselves in a room where they can’t harm anybody else except themselves and we can wait that out, or you decide you want to have a confrontation with law enforcement, in which case, I’d like my skill set.

This is just part of the work Zalenski says a school resource officer must do to keep children and teachers safe every day in school.