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One tough hall monitor

With 19 years in law enforcement, Deputy John "Keith" Bell has done it all _ vice, street patrols, detention deputy and selective enforcement squads, including the well-known Green Team that patrols the University of South Florida area. He even pulled a seven-month stint in the Airport Homeland Security program.

Yet these past eight months have been his "busiest," he said, in his newest assignment as the school resource officer for Gaither High School.

"The 8{-hour day I do here is full," said Bell, a native of England who served nine years on the Manchester police force before moving here in 1987. "Between working with the parents and the teachers and over 2,400 kids, most days I don't eat lunch."

Bell spends his day patrolling the entire school, conducting safety and law enforcement presentations, heading up the school's student Crime Watch group, and making the inevitable arrests.

"I write out at least 10 citations for smoking every month, and we easily have one arrest here every week," Bell said. "On the whole, we've got a great group of kids here, but there's a small number of bad apples that keep me busy."

Infractions include everything _ carrying illegal weapons, possession of illegal drugs and alcohol, trespassing, and battery.

"It's a zero-tolerance policy here," said Bell, who's married with two young children. "The kids know the rules. If they break them, they know what's going to happen."

Mike Magun met Bell under just such circumstances back in March, when the deputy found him smoking cigarettes on campus and issued him a $25 citation. Within the next several months Bell caught Magun smoking two other times, and issued him citations twice again.

"Oh, I hated him at first," said Magun, now 16 and a junior at Gaither. "But then we got to talking, and I finally figured out, he's just doing his job, and you can't stop a person from doing his job."

Over time, the two became better acquainted.

"If you talk to him, he'll talk to you even if it's about nothing, for a few minutes," said Magun, who not only gave up smoking, but also joined the school's Crime Watch group just last month. "He takes the time, where the other school cops would not have taken the time to stand there and talk to you."

Sophomore Nicole Rushton, 15, also found Bell willing to go the extra mile, recalling an incident last year when she was the victim of a fairly typical school crime.

"It was after track, in the locker room, and my cell phone was stolen," she recalled. "I came to him the next day and gave him all of my information, and he checked back with me on a regular basis. We never did find my phone, but he looked everywhere for me," she said. "He really cared, even though it was just a little thing."

Bell thinks part of his success with the students is that they simply like the way he sounds.

"They hone right in on it _ want to know where I'm from," said Bell in his regal-sounding British accent. " "I like the way you talk,' they tell me."

Some might wonder if the difference in vocabulary has impeded him. Having grown up in England, Bell was most accustomed to saying "car parks" in place of "parking lot," "jack-the-lad" instead of "a fool," and "petrol," meaning "gas."

The students, he found, had no problem understanding him, and if anyone is confused, he quipped, it's him.

"I've been here that long that I have forgotten which term is used where," he said.

Bell is unsure how long he'll be at Gaither.

"Who knows what the sheriff may have in store for me?" he said. "For right now, I enjoy it here. I'm still active in law enforcement. I'm still patrolling, I'm still writing tickets, and I'm still arresting people."

Other officers, he said, may not know the real scope of an SRO's job.

"The ones that have done it know how busy you are, but some have no idea," he said. "They think we're babysitters. I'd challenge any one of them to come try a high school some time."

Contact reporter Sheryl Kay at skreporterhotmail.com.

Between classes at Gaither High School last week, Hillsborough County sheriff's Deputy John "Keith" Bell talks to Heather Milito about getting involved with SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions.) Bell is the school resource officer at Gaither.

Bell makes sure a locker is secure as he walks down a hallway at Gaither High School. He spends his day patrolling the entire school, conducting safety and law enforcement presentations, heading up the student Crime Watch and making arrests.

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