Hissam brings peace of mind to OGHS

NEW MANCHESTER-Having just witnessed Hancock County sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hissam “pull over” Oak Glen High School sophomore Ambria Alford for drunken driving, the students in Patrick McGillian’s health class had some questions for the officer.

Is it fun pulling someone over for driving under the influence?

“I don’t know that it’s fun. It’s part of the job,” Hissam said.

Do people ever lie about their alcohol consumption?

“The question should be: Do people ever tell the truth? They’ll do anything they can to get out of it,” he said.

Have you ever been bribed?

“You’ve been watching too much TV,” he said.

After three years as Oak Glen’s prevention resource officer (PRO), Hissam has pretty much seen and heard it all. Now he’s getting ready to move on to a new school and to a much younger, and larger, group of children.

Hissam, 41, of Chester, is one of two PRO deputies supplied to Hancock County Schools by the sheriff’s department, but that number soon will grow to five. The school year that is drawing to a close has had its share of challenges-a fight after a football game, a fatal crash involving three students, a stabbing incident at a nearby school district-all of which remind Hissam that schools need in-house officers now more than ever.

“Our number one objective here is to make sure everyone is safe-the kids and the faculty,” said Hissam, who has been with the sheriff’s department since 2008 and at Oak Glen since 2010.

Following the April 9 stabbings at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pa., Hissam said he fielded “a thousand and one questions” from Oak Glen faculty-everything from how to approach a person with a knife to when to pull the fire alarm. The next day, he spent a half hour going over lockdown and other security procedures with the school’s faculty senate.

Hissam’s presence in the halls and classrooms of Oak Glen is a sign of the times in a post-Columbine era, but attacks usually don’t happen in schools that have a resource officer, he said.

“Most of the shooters don’t want that confrontation with law enforcement. Just having that presence in the building gives that person one more thing to worry about, so it’s a deterrent,” he said.

Hissam starts his day at 7 a.m. with bus duty. He greets students as they arrive and watches for any trouble. “If fights happen, that’s usually when they occur,” he said.

Once the students are inside and he has checked the parking lot, Hissam walks the halls and makes sure all exterior doors are locked. The school has a “man trap” entrance that requires all visitors to be buzzed into the office before proceeding into the school.

In the second period, Hissam and Assistant Principal Dave Smith spend time with students who have been put on “probation” because of a failing grade or behavior issues. “We try to keep them going in the right direction with their grades and their behavior,” he said.

Hissam spends more time in the halls during class changes and hangs out in the cafeteria during the two lunch periods. He stays on the lookout for trouble, although this year has been fairly quiet.

“Oak Glen’s been very good as far as physical altercations are concerned. We’ve had only one that I can think of, so we’ve had a very good year,” he said.

At the end of the school day, Hissam is back out in the parking lot pulling bus duty.

Resource officers such as Hissam also teach classes, investigate crimes, provide security at after-school events and help with in-school conflict mediation and resolution.

In the past school year, Hissam has addressed 56 classes on a variety of subjects: drunken driving, illegal drug use, juvenile law, domestic violence, search and seizure procedures, date rape, motor vehicle laws, bullying, Internet safety and tobacco use.

Hissam obtained grant funding for his “Bears Against Bullying” program last year and took it on the road this year. Oak Glen students gave 45-minute presentations on bullying, including skits and question-and-answer sessions, at Allison Elementary School in Chester and New Manchester Elementary School, he said.

Hissam also is the point man for unannounced, random searches at the high school, none of which have turned up contraband this year, he said. Hancock County sheriff’s K-9s are used for both locker and vehicle searches.

“It’s a deterrent more than anything else. It keeps them from bringing stuff in the school,” he said.

Hissam said he enjoys spending time away from his tiny office, interacting with students, building relationships and coaching boys varsity basketball. “We’re here also to be mentors to the kids,” he said. “You can get information from the kids if they trust you.”

A 1990 graduate of Oak Glen, Hissam said he will miss his alma mater as he becomes the PRO for the new Weirton Elementary School in August. There, he will be responsible for the safety of more than 900 students.