School officers connect with students in the hallways, keeping them safe and developing relationships
By Stephanie Dolan
When Avon students headed back to class, so did a new department of school resource officers. After having officers come from Avon Police Department, the district is in its first year of having its own police department. Chief Chase Lyday believes school-based policing is the most meaningful form of policing that he can do.
“We see such an immediate and tangible impact and see kids be successful as a result of our interaction with them or because we have dealt with them appropriately in a potential criminal situation,” he said. “We often get immediate, positive feedback. Out in the world, if you arrest someone and they go to jail or you write traffic tickets, you don’t see what happens. It is our honor and desire of our heart to be servants of the community and our students.”
These school resource officers are trained specifically to work with students, and their jobs are more than just about keeping everyone safe.
“We’re responsible for the security of school,” said Sgt. Todd Knowles who leads the team of four Plainfield Police Department officers who work in the schools. “I walk the hallways throughout the day. I monitor the lunchroom during lunches. I have conversations with kids in the hallway. The good thing about being here all day is you really talk to the kids more. That’s what it’s about, communicating with the kids. These kids are our future.”
Developing Avon’s new department during a quarantine was extremely challenging for Lyday who met deadends when some people were working and others were not or government offices were closed.
“We are building a program from the ground up using national best practices for the benefit of our kids,” said Lyday, who oversees four other officers. “We want consistent relationships with schools, administrators and families. Consistency is important to our success.”
Some school officers are managed by local police departments within the same community, while others like in Avon are an entity unto themselves, answering to the chief as well as the system in which they work.
“We are a separate department completely from the Avon Police Department,” said Lyday who was previously a school resource officer in Decatur Township in southwest Indianapolis. “I’m the chief of police for this new department. Our school police officers are school resource officers. The school district gets to hire personnel that they deem appropriate to work with kids every day and to carefully select those officers in the way the school deems most appropriate.”
Knowles is in his second year as the head of the school resource program at Plainfield Schools.
Before leading the resource officers, he was the drug abuse resistance education (DARE) officer for seven years at Plainfield Middle School.
“That’s what got me in the school,” Knowles said. “When I first started, I would come in and talk to six classes all day on Monday. As time progressed, it was Monday, Wednesday and Friday.”
Currently, Knowles teaches six classes a week to sixth graders.
“This isn’t coming in for just a class a day,” he said. “You’re here all day, and they see you.”
The skills necessary to be a road officer are different than those needed to be a school resource officer.
“It is the best form of community policing in existence,” said Lyday who has been a school resource officer since 2013. “I love working with kids and seeing the tangible dividends later when we see them on the street or in life. The relationships we build make it a really meaningful job.”
Simply interacting with students creates connections between the officers and kids.
“Over the years that we have had school resource officers in schools, it seems that when you have officers interacting with young people at a young age and having that positive connection, it seems to reflect when they become adults,” said Joe Aldridge, deputy chief of support for the Plainfield Police Department.
“Starting that relationship with the community at a young age is crucial,” Aldridge said. “Most of the students at the school will tell you who the officer is and that they can come to him or her anytime they want, not only to protect the school, but they’re there as role models in the school.”
Lyday’s main job is to mentor students and be a good consistent role model in their lives.
“We need to be good educators ourselves and educate ourselves on school safety,” he said. “The benefit of a school resource officer is that we have intrinsic knowledge of the juvenile justice system if a law enforcement issue may arise.”
The department’s goal is to keep as many kids as possible out of the criminal justice system,” Lyday said.
“Our students have taken our officers very warmly,” he said. “There was concern coming back to this school year after quarantine that they would have a hard time accepting our officers, but because of our officers’ willingness to build good, healthy relationships with our students, they feel safe and not threatened by the police.”
The officers are highly trained, well qualified and want to work with students.
“They chose to be in this profession,” he said. “They aren’t assigned, and this isn’t something they settled for. Some of our officers have been in this profession for over 20 years. They love kids and believe this to be meaningful. The quality of our police force have put us in a position to see kids through safely to graduation. We’re very proud of that.”