Police officer in school: Presence is for prevention, rapport, resource

Police officer in school: Presence is for prevention, rapport, resource Officer Theron Ahlers, right, visits with Ruth Parsons, left, and Sarah Decker, center, during lunch hour at Vermillion High School. Ahlers recently began serving as the School Resource Officer at VHS. He will also spend time at Vermillion Middle School. The program was recently approved by the City of Vermillion and the Board of Education of the Vermillion School District. by M. Jill Sundstrom New faces are the norm at most schools as teacher and student populations shift from semester to semester.

This year, however, one of the new faces on the campuses of Vermillion High School and Vermillion Middle School is that of a city police officer.

Theron Ahlers of the Vermillion Police Department has just begun a new program at VHS and VMS to help increase the rapport between students and law enforcement, offer resources for students who have questions about law-related matters, and to help prevent potential unlawful acts.

The School Resource Officer program was recently approved by both the City of Vermillion and the Board of Education of the Vermillion School District. Ahlers will spend a certain amount of time at each school every week (at no cost to the school), visiting with students, discussing their concerns and disseminating information, although there is no set curriculum.

�Having an officer in the school gives students a chance to talk about things that concern them,� Ahlers said. �They have a lot of complicated issues in their lives, and sometimes those relate to the law. My being there will help answer their questions, whatever the need may be.�

Ahlers noted that topics covered could include obtaining drivers licenses, what happens if a student gets a speeding ticket, or what students should do if they see a crime being committed.

�Often times, students don�t know where to turn when they have questions like this,� Ahlers said. �But I can help by either answering their questions or referring them to the correct source.�

Plans are to also provide information on a variety of subjects, including bicycle safety, safe driving tips, reporting accidents, decision-making skills, and drunk and drugged driving awareness.

�I�ll be playing a three-part role as the school resource officer,� Ahlers said. �That includes being a guest speaker sharing law-related information, a counselor who is available to respond to students� problems, and a law enforcement officer, in case a problem arises.�

Ahlers is quick to point out that his presence in the school is a preventative measure.

�This is an effort of prevention through interaction, taking a proactive approach in dealing with young people,� he said. �We want to create mutual respect and let kids know that we care about them.�

Ahlers, who also teaches D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) to fifth-graders, received training in Sioux Falls from the National Association of School Resource Officers for the new program.

�There are many communities either involved in the program or seriously taking a look at initiating one,� Ahlers said. �This includes North Sioux City, Sioux Falls, Sioux City, Dell Rapids, Huron and Brookings.

�This is a very new program for us, so we�re moving slowly with it, testing the waters, so to speak,� he continued. �The city and the schools want it to be tailored to our community.�

Vermillion Police Chief Bruce Plate agreed.

�We started working with the schools in the 1980s with D.A.R.E.,� he said. �We�ve now come full circle by adding the School Resource Officer program. But we want to make it fit Vermillion, so we�re taking it slow as we decide what direction we want to take as time goes on.�

Vermillion Middle School Principal Pat Anderson is enthusiastic about the new program.

�This is an extension of the community into the school,� he said. �It�s going to be a good partnership and create a positive impact on our students.�

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