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May 24, 2018 • Headline News
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Officers stand between students and threat

Pictured from left are School Resource Officers for Ripley County schools: Noel Houze, Milan; Dan Goris, JCD; Jeff Thielking, South Ripley and Southeastern Career Center, and Dave Abel, Batesville schools. These four officers have over 100 years of law enforcement experience they bring to our schools.

With safety on the minds of parents as their children leave for school each day, Ripley County is fortunate they have four school resource officers who also have safety foremost on their minds, along with administration and staff at each school.

Dan Goris is at Jac-Cen-Del, Noel Houze, Milan, Jeff Thielking, South Ripley and Dave Abel, Batesville schools. Combined these officers represent more than just officer titles – they represent more than 100 years of law enforcement. They have served as jail officers, deputies, Indiana State Police and Indiana State Police special units, dispatchers, city police officers and more. They’ve almost seen it all.

These men are not smug about their knowledge, but they are confident. They know what their role is at any given time, and that is to “stop the threat” they said in unison at a recent interview. It’s that simple for them, but hard for parents to sometimes understand how that will be done. Again, they exude the confidence that they rely not only on themselves, but training that is ongoing. “We’re always looking at new ways to make what we do even better,” noted SRO Houze. They keep in contact with each other, and they’re up on the latest threats that confront our students.

School Resource Officers are fully armed and ready to use force if needed. Their first priority is student safety. They have many things in place for students’ protection and are in constant training, learning mode.

They walk the school halls, know many of the students by name, and connect with them on many different levels. SRO Goris said he is Officer Dan at the high school and Deputy Dan at the elementary school, where he is received much differently. It’s not in the job description for the resource officers to attend games or extra-curricular activities, but they often do. This gives them time to interact with students and also ensures a measure of safety.

While schools across the country have come under attack in a variety of ways threatening the safety of students, James A. Mercy, PhD, Acting Director of the Division of Violence Prevention in the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control said, “Children are safer in schools than they are in their communities.” Known as a national expert on global violence, Mercy said less than two percent of school-aged children are murdered in schools. Pat Murphy, Milan Middle School Principal learned that information at a conference he attended recently.

The officers agreed that social media has completely changed communication. “There are so many ways the students can communicate with each other and others never know what they are doing,” noted Houze, with Thielking agreeing. But, if students are putting negative thoughts, plans, or checking out questionable sites, this will be found if the students are using their Chromebooks. Also, when other students hear about a situation, often they will come to officers and let them know. It’s not being a snitch, it’s being proactive and possibly saving lives. “Every complaint will be checked out immediately,” noted Thielking. His advice was not to make idle threats if you don’t want a reaction from police. It’s hard to track phones and most students in today’s society are attached to their cell phone. If there’s one thing the officers could change at the schools, it would be to ask the students to check the phones at the door.

Schools have policies in place to handle disruptive students and still try to encourage them to get a high school diploma. It’s a delicate balance when trying to help students and sometimes parents are minimally involved. “We need the parents to also be a part of the equation,” they noted.
Officer Goris said they are committed to the schools they serve, after being asked the question why come back to police type of work after retirement. The others agreed.

All the area schools except South Ripley have drug testing. “If you want to be involved in extra-curricular activities, you have to agree to be tested,” noted SRO Houze. He said it’s that simple. The test is administered at random without even the school personnel knowing who the student will be. It’s done by a number system. In the policy for the Drug Testing program, it notes that it is not intended to be disciplinary or punitive in nature. “It is in place to prevent students from participating in extracurricular activities while the student has drug residues in their body. It is the purpose of this program to educate, help, and direct students away from drug and alcohol abuse and toward a healthy and drug free participation.”

Being able to participate in extra-curricular activities is a privilege, not a right for students. It is encouraged and helps the student get a healthy well-rounded education, but rules have to be followed.

Having discussed the drug policies, officers agree drug deals/use often can be the cause of other crimes in the school.

Right now the resource officers are placed in schools contingent on grants. At South Ripley, Officer Thielking is responsible for writing the grant to apply for money that pays his salary. All of the officers agreed it would be much better if the State would allot some sustainable funding for the resource officers. They feel schools will never go back to not having a resource officer and will even add staff in the future.

And, when you think things have died down somewhat, another school shooting or incident takes place somewhere in the United States. So the officers say they know with all of the safeguards in place, there still is the threat of something happening in their school. Their resolve is to stop the threat. Period.

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