School resource officers help students learn, solve problems

DeKALB – Clinton Rosette Middle School students started the school day recently with an intruder drill.

Instead of huddling in a corner of the room, students are now trained to evacuate dangerous areas and, in worst-case scenarios, throw objects at intruders if they have no other option. DeKalb High School police liaison officer Aaron Lockhart is one officer using this new training method.

“An intruder’s main goal is to harm students. If we just let the intruder do whatever they want, it’ll end up a lot worse than us enhancing survivability,” Lockhart said. “That’s why we’re teaching these kids. Empower people to help themselves.”

Lockhart is not the only officer teaching students potentially life-saving lessons like these at area schools. DeKalb School District 428 has two police officers assigned to area schools: Lockhart is DeKalb High School’s sole officer, and Jose Jaques divides his time between Clinton Rosette and Huntley middle schools. The district pays 75 percent of these officers’ salaries, according to a November board meeting agenda.

Soon, there will be a new officer at Sycamore School District 427. The school board voted last week to pay $60,000 a year for a new school resource officer position at Sycamore Middle School beginning in August. Sycamore Police Chief Don Thomas said the department already has selected patrol officer Brad Caldwell to serve at Sycamore Middle. There already is a resource officer at Sycamore High School.

Genoa-Kingston School District does not have any school resource officers, superintendent Joe
Burgess said.

Caldwell has been with Sycamore police since Dec. 15, 2008. He has training in dealing with children, a special certification school resource officers must have. Caldwell beat out three internal candidates in order to be at Sycamore Middle on school days.

“He’s going to be an asset,” Thomas said. “He has a strong presence. He’s the kind of guy who can talk quietly, but you know he’s capable.”

Police and school officials say school resource officers are an important part of teaching students not to be afraid of police, but to use them as resources. These officers deal with issues such as bullying, drugs and occasionally responding to incidents such as fights between students.

Tim Vincent, principal at Clinton Rosette, said the officers use proactive methods to prevent crime. Jaques even teaches sixth-grade classes once a month for six months of the school year, with lessons of empathy, communication skills, listening, decision-making, active speaking and anger management.

When Vincent was a first-year math teacher 10 years ago, he said there was gang activity at Clinton Rosette. Now, those issues aren’t as prevalent, partly because of the officer’s presence, Vincent said.

“I don’t look at him as someone that is just here to prevent a violent incident happening at schools,” Vincent said. “His most important role is as a ... resource.”

Jaques, who has been a school resource officer for eight years, said the most important lesson he tries to teach students is empathy.

“If you look at certain segments of society, they think it’s OK for something to happen to someone else, just not them,” Jaques said. “If they actually tried to understand the feelings of someone else, they might change their behavior.”

Jim Briscoe, DeKalb School District superintendent, said the school resource officers have good relationships with the students. Most importantly, he said they also have immediate contact with the police department if anything serious were to happen.

DeKalb School District 428 even has a program that rewards students for reporting any weapons or drugs to police. With Crime Stoppers’ Quick 50 Program, students can receive $50 for anonymously providing information that leads to confiscating any weapon or drug, excluding tobacco, Lockhart said.

“We’re here to help [students] succeed and help them with graduating high school,” he said.