Recent violence at Memorial Jr. High highlights need for SRO, say D158 and LPD
By Josh Bootsma
LANSING, Ill. (June 4, 2022) – A School Resource Police Officer will be placed at Memorial Jr. High School next year, and will serve the middle school as well as District 158’s elementary schools and primary school. A collaboration of D158 and the Lansing Police Department, the officer will respond to illegal activity but also become a part of the schools’ communities as a trusted figure and, perhaps, a friend.
Hoped to be hired before next school year, the School Resource Officer (SRO) will be a full-time employee of the Lansing Police Department, but will have 75% of his or her salary paid by D158, as the officer will spend roughly three quarters of his or her time serving the district. In the summer, the officer will help meet the needs of the Lansing Police Department in other ways.
A recent example that highlighted the need for such a presence in the schools, say D158 and LPD, is violence that occurred at Memorial Jr. High on April 7 when a handful of kids fought outside the school in what was called “mob action” by the school district. The fight injured two teachers, and the students involved were given 20 hours of community service by a Lansing hearing officer on May 5. The district has also implemented disciplinary actions against the students.
“Somebody to connect with kids”
District 158 Superintendent Dr. Nathan Schilling feels that in the midst of nationwide calls to roll back police involvement in schools, a better alternative is to allow children to create positive and healthy relationships with police.
“It is super important to get somebody who can connect with kids, and really, that’s more of a preventative thing. … There is more of a need for a relationally-effective police officer in the schools now more than ever,” Schilling said, adding that D158 already has effective social work and counseling staff in place, and the officer will be an extra layer on top of those services.
Lansing Police Chief Al Phillips believes the new officer will further promote the department’s community policing efforts: “Lansing’s always had a great reputation with the relationships with our police officers, especially going back to Mike Manno. Everybody knew Mike Manno from our DARE program, and we’ve had so many fantastic stories told about that. I want to get back to that,” he said.
Not just a friend, an authority
Despite the relational aspect of the SRO, the officer will serve an authoritative role as well, responding to situations and bringing conflict resolution, investigative skills, and a strong physical presence to school incidents.
“If you’re too friendly, then that is not going to have the level of supervision and accountability that’s necessary sometimes to maintain order. But if you’re not friendly enough, then it’s going to look too directorial, too negative, too punitive, and you don’t want that either. The goal of this is to really find that happy medium,” Schilling said.
Selecting an officer
Part of striking that happy medium will come in the selection process, and both District 158 and Lansing Police will be involved in interviewing candidates for the position. According to Chief Phillips, the SRO will be an existing officer at LPD who will transition into the new role.
“We’re looking for people who know how to interact with people in a positive way, and also have the skillset to de-escalate. … We want somebody that can walk in there and they already have a relationship with the kids, so it’s even easier,” Phillips said, adding that he has several candidates already in mind.
The SRO will be present throughout the school day at both Memorial and other D158 schools, overseeing pick-up and drop-off times and being nearby whenever help is needed. Additionally, Phillips said the SRO will likely teach a class educating youth on police-related matters.
In school-related discipline matters, the officer’s role will be limited, Schilling said. For example, an officer won’t be responsible for enforcing a school’s cell phone or dress code policy. “Those types of things are administrative responsibilities,” he said.
Chief Phillips hopes the D158 SRO will be significantly different from Detective Kiera Bogan’s role at TF South. As the School Resource Officer at the much larger high school, Bogan is actively involved in investigations on a regular basis. Phillips hopes the SRO at D158 can be more relationship focused.
Beyond working at the school, the SRO will be called upon to do well-being checks at home if a student hasn’t been seen or heard from, investigate residency issues in the district, or follow up on threats of violence to make sure a student doesn’t have access to weapons.
“Those types of things are very uniquely beneficial coming from this position,” Schilling said.
The SRO is planned to be in place to start the 2022-23 school year, and the Lansing Village Board will vote on a memorandum of understanding regarding the new position on June 7.