Sept. 18, 2006

School Resource Officer being discussed for Delano

By Ryan Gueningsman
Managing Editor

Several community members recently brought their thoughts and Wright County Sheriff Gary Miller, to the Delano School Board about the district being the last in the county that does not have a school resource officer (SRO).

Dawn Schieffer of MEADA (methamphetamine education and drug awareness), along with several other parents, were present with the sheriff and Sergeant Eric Leander at a school board meeting in late August.

The SRO program in Wright County began in the mid-late 1990s, Leander said. It started with one officer who spent time between schools in St. Michael and Monticello, and grew from there, Leander said.

“All of them were part-time to begin with,” Leander said. “Once they (schools) realized how much they liked them (school resource officers), it went from part-time to full-time.”

Maple Lake Schools had a school resource officer, quit the program, than asked to have it back, Leander said.

Miller said that earlier in his career, he did not believe cops were needed in schools, but that he has changed his opinion of the program after seeing the benefits first-hand.

“I’m all the way around the bend now, and it’s the best thing since sliced bread,” Miller said.

School board members questioned Miller and Leander about the officer’s schedule every day, and how they keep busy.

Leander explained that in the morning, the officer typically spends some time in the parking lot, dealing with parking and traffic issues that may arise.

Once school starts, the officer would meet once a week with a probation officer, and continue spending time with students. Officers in the school also can work on special presentations, along with being available at a moment’s notice to respond to any emergency that may arise.

Officers are also available to assist in emergency management planning and with crisis management plans for the district.

He said the biggest advantage of the SRO program is consistency – the same deputy is present in the school, and gets to know how staff and administration want issues handled.

Leander has been with the sheriff’s department for about 10 years, and has been in law enforcement for 12 years.

He said interest has been raised by several local residents about why there is not a program in place at Delano schools. Leander said there is a lot of interest from parents who are concerned that there is not a program in place due to the size of the school district, and the fact that Delano is close to the metro area.

“They are the last district we cover that does not have a SRO,” Leander said of Delano.

Leander said that having a SRO in local schools will affect and help people who don’t even have children in that sometimes crimes can be solved, or even prevented, by having that constant officer presence within the school.

He added that sometimes officers who are in the schools on a regular basis here things about crimes that have happened in the area, and can use that information to help solve those crimes, and reduce the number of unsolved crimes.

Brian Johnson, who works at Monticello schools as an SRO, considers having an SRO a proactive stance, and wants to let people know that the program is “not about arresting people,” he said.

“SROs are a big help in incidents that happen outside of school,” Johnson said.

He spent four years at the Dassel-Cokato School District, then went on and spent some time as a detective, before returning to the Monticello School District this fall.

“My first year in DC started out at 15 hours per week. The second year was 25 hours, and the fourth year it was made into a full-time spot,” he said.

Johnson compared the school resource program to having an officer within a community. A school essentially becomes its own community, and can have more than 2,000 people at a given time, counting staff and students.

“That’s the size of a small city,” Johnson said. “Why wouldn’t you have someone here?”

Delano school enrollment numbers for the first day of school showed the elementary school at 765 students, the middle school at 698 students, and the high school at 710 students, according to Supt. John Sweet.

“Some people get nervous of the gun,” Johnson said. “But after a while, people stop looking at the gun and they look at you.”

At this point, Sweet said this issue will most likely show up at the Delano City Council next, which may offer some more input on the issue, as well as potential cost-sharing.

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