ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Just inside the gates of Mollie Ray Elementary, Orange County Deputy Brian Jensen parks his patrol vehicle. “Making a Difference” is painted on the side.
Jensen seems to be living up to the term.
“I didn’t anticipate the immediate or relatively quick positive influence I was going to have,” Jensen said, reflecting on the three years he’s been assigned to the Pine Hills area school.
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Jensen has created a campaign to encourage reading, good behavior and completing work assignments. Jensen even helped provide bikes for students who didn’t have them.
“I interact with the kids every day and I’ve seen kids change direction,” Jensen said, adding that it wasn’t always easy.
“Kids, when I initially started here wouldn’t even talk to me, largely because of my uniform,” Jensen remembers.
Today you’re likely to find him making small talk with each student in the cafeteria, offering encouragement, motivation and praise.
“I hand out the napkins and utensils because then I get a chance to say something to every kid that comes through that lunch line,” Jensen said.
Through those conversations he discovered a correlation between discipline and reading.
“I noticed that a large portion of our disciplinary issues, when I’m talking to those kids, I discover they’re having problems reading,” Jensen remembers. “When I talk to them further I find out they don’t have books at home and they’re not encouraged to read anywhere other than here.”
That revelation led to his reading challenges, which are coordinated with the school.
During holiday breaks such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Break, Jensen encourages students to read books and write reports. If they complete a report they get a small toy.
Jensen also sponsors “Gummy Bear Friday.” If students behave well in class, complete their assignments and classwork, their teacher will give them a coupon that they can exchange with Jensen for a bag of gummy bears.
“They’re a fruit snack,” Jensen laughs, holding up one of the bags. “No artificial flavors or sugars. That’s one of the conditions. It had to be sugar free!”
Jensen says he’s been in law enforcement for nearly 40 years. Most of his time was with the Florida Highway Patrol.
“I’m very fortunate,” Jensen said. “I’m in a position in my life where my kids are grown. So I can put more effort into this.”
Parent and PTA President Netisha Thornelant has taken notice, nominating Jensen for the News 6 Getting Results Award.
“I sent the email because with everything going on between police interaction, especially with minorities, I feel deputy Jensen provides a good example of police interaction with our young people,” she said.
Thornelant said she sees Jensen every morning at the front gate welcoming students and parents to campus.
“I see how he interacts with the kids and how they respect him and how he respects them,” Thornelant said. “He’s a positive reinforcement that law enforcement isn’t all bad.”
When Jensen noticed many students were coming to school on bikes that were dangerous or in disrepair, he helped purchase new ones for a half dozen children. He also reached out to the nonprofit Children’s Safety Village to get them helmets and bike locks.
Jensen said he’s always loved children and was active in his own children’s education.
He took the SRO position thinking it would be interesting but he didn’t realize it would be so rewarding.
“Working the road, you don’t always see what you’ve accomplished. If you’re patrolling a neighborhood you don’t know if you’ve prevented a crime,” Jensen said. “I interact with kids every day and I’ve seen them change direction.”
Jensen said he doesn’t think he’s any more committed than other school resource officers but he’s humbled by the attention.
“I’m doing something that I greatly enjoy,” Jensen said. “I think it’s a special job and I’m fortunate to have found my way into it,”