LANSING, Ill. (August 3, 2023) – In just a few short weeks, Detective Lewis of the Lansing Police Department will return to school, along with thousands of other Lansing students. She’ll do so with a full year of experience as District 158’s School Resource Officer under her belt.
A collaboration between the Lansing Police Department and District 158 that was approved and implemented last year, the School Resource Officer position was establish to add an extra layer of public safety at Lansing’s largest school district.
Announced in the role last summer, Lewis spends her time during the school year at all District 158 schools, with most of her time spent at Memorial Jr. High School.
A noticeable difference
With a full school year completed to assess the impact of the School Resource Officer, District 158 Superintendent Nathan Schilling said the inaugural year of Detective Lewis’ new role was a success.
“The first and most immediate impact was just her presence in the junior high school,” he said. “She has done an outstanding job building relationships within our school and district community. A very tangible impact of that right off the bat was a very preventative approach to student discipline, and more specifically, student fights.”
Lewis has examples of her deterring fights last school year, altercations that could have turned into violence similar to the “mob action” that occurred at Memorial in April of 2022, before the School Resource Officer position was in effect.
Just a few weeks after the school year started in August of 2022, Lewis was notified by administration of a group of eighth-grade boys that were intent on fighting. Lewis intervened and de-escalated the situation.
“I got both groups of boys together [and said], ‘What are we doing here? What is going on? I’m going to let you know this is what’s going to happen if this continues…,'” she said. “A lot of it was just mediation. I said, ‘We’re not about to do this. They didn’t bring me in here for no reason.’ I didn’t have problems out of those boys the rest of the year until the end of the year.”
At the end of the year, Lewis said some eighth-graders wanted to continue a “tradition” of fighting with seventh-graders.
“The first day that happened, they did it during a dismissal time. After that I said no. I said we need [police] cars out here every day until the end of the school year. So we nipped it in in the bud and nothing else kicked off after that,” she said.
According to Schilling, the number of student suspensions at Memorial was cut in half from the 2021-22 school year to the 2022-23 school year, a change he credits to various factors including the “substantial difference” caused by Detective Lewis’ presence at the school.
Day to day
Lewis has an open-door office policy at Memorial Junior High, where she said students often come into her office to grab candy, talk for a minute, or share anything out of the ordinary.
“I don’t sugarcoat anything with them,” Lewis said, adding that although she’s developed friendly relationships with students, she makes sure they know that she is an authority figure.
Outside of her time talking with students, teachers, or school staff, Lewis walks the hallways during passing periods, tries to be present in the lunch room, and oversees the start of school and dismissals.
“Detective Lewis is very good about having kids come to her and confide things in her because she has those existing relationships.” Schilling said. “She was a visible presence in the junior high building, talking to kids, popping into classrooms. It’s even to the point where she would hear rumblings of a fight and she would either pull those kids and talk to them or go to the classroom and she would peek her head in or pull a kid or do something that would indicate, ‘I’m watching you.'”
Outside of Memorial, Lewis made the rounds at the four remaining D158 schools, which include three elementary schools and one primary school. Sometimes, Lewis said, she would intervene when conflicts arose between parents and school staff regarding a disciplinary issue.
“I did a little bit of everything. I stayed busy,” she said.
Additionally, Lewis worked on the District’s Crisis Team to help identify and proactively address security issues at the schools that might arise during an active shooter situation.
“Now we have a police officer who’s in our district every day who sees the inner workings of the district. Her lens is a little bit different and she’s been extremely helpful in informing the work of that team,” Schilling said. “She did kind of a security audit of our district and brought that information to the Crisis Team. So there are a number of little security improvements that we’re making as a result of her suggestions and involvement in that team.”
Home visits and absenteeism
Schilling believes the School Resource Officer also had a positive effect on absenteeism in the district, citing a 6% decrease from the year before.
“She did a lot of home visits, especially during the breaks, like when we had Thanksgiving break, or spring break … she would visit the homes of chronically absent students, and the principals would often go with her. And that helped builded some awareness and intervention,” Schilling said.
“It’s kind of like their ‘let’s get back to school’ warning,” Lewis said, who also made home visits to discuss disciplinary issues when school administrators were unable to do so.
Lewis said the most challenging part of her role in District 158 schools doesn’t have anything to do with school at all — but with online interactions that take place outside of school.
“There were a lot of social media issues this year. … Bullying, harassing, even inappropriate pictures and things of that nature. That was a big issue. Huge,” Lewis said. “When we were younger, things ended at school. You didn’t have to worry about things until 12 hours later. … But now kids are hiding things and not telling their parents.”
Lewis hopes to address some of these and other safety-related issues in classroom settings in the future.
Unlike the students she’ll rejoin in a few weeks, Lewis has not been on summer vacation. Since school let out in early June, she’s been continuing to do detective work with the Lansing PD, as well as planning and facilitating the department’s Summer Mentorship Program.
“Interest in law enforcement in general has been down across the country,” Lansing Police Chief Al Phillips said. “People don’t want to be police officers.”
One goal of the Summer Mentorship Program is to de-mystify the police for middle schoolers. The program just finished its first year under the facilitation of Lewis.
“It is getting us integrated with these kids and sharing with them what it’s like to be a cop a little bit, but more importantly getting to know us and getting more comfortable with us,” Phillips said.
This year, 13 students from Memorial Jr. High participated in the program, which ran on four Fridays in July, and concluded on Tuesday night at National Night Out.
Participants went fishing with police officers, visited the Patti Leach Youth Center, went bowling, volunteered at Tri-State Nursing Home, took a tour of the Police Department, and did other activities.
Learning and growing
As the new school year begins, Lewis hopes to start appearing in classrooms to teach LPD’s DANGER curriculum to kids. DANGER is a program created by Lansing Police in 2010 to educate kids on topics including “internet safety, cultural diversity, drugs, gangs, and decision making skills,” according to LPD’s website.
She also hopes to continue a trend she’s seen in the rest of the police department — other officers looking to her for guidance when dealing with kids.
“Some of the police officers here, instead of them having to do a whole-on arrest, … if I know it’s one of my kids, [I’ll say] ‘Hey, write their name down, give them a citation, and I’ll take care of it,'” Lewis said. “They handle things a little differently now.”
Lewis has also urged officers to come through District 158 schools regularly to show their faces and expose students to the police in a positive way at an early age.
“That would be one of my main things [I’m most proud of], showing other officers — little by little — how to deal with the juveniles here in town,” she said.
As school starts on August 23 in District 158, Lewis is excited to get back to work in Lansing’s schools.
“I do miss the kids,” she said. “I’m excited to see the new set of kids that are going to come through, knowing that they’ve already seen me before from the other schools.”
- Meet Jennifer Lewis – District 158’s new School Resource Officer (July 9, 2022)
- School Resource Officer coming to District 158 schools (June 4, 2022)