Local law enforcement weighs in on school safety

School Resource Officers and members of the Missouri Highway Patrol are gearing up for the start of a new school year.

Posted: Aug. 16, 2018 7:16 PM
Updated: Aug. 17, 2018 8:25 AM

(St.Joseph,MO) Students in the St.Joseph School District were back in the classroom Thursday, but the kids weren’t the only ones heading back to school.

Devin Kallauner is the School Resource Officer (SRO) for Central High School, Bode Middle School and Truman Middle School.

"We have three officers, on at each high school that cover the middle school also. We have a resource officer at our alternative school. Then we have an officer dedicated to all 13 elementary schools," Kallauner said.

With the closing of two elementary schools, the district has repositioned a few SROs to enforce safety protocols and keep students and visitors on their toes.

"We try not to have routines. It's tough when the bell starts at 8 and it ends at a certain time. We try to make it through the school. We try to do several passes through our schools,"Kallauner said.

The St. Joseph school district currently works exclusively with their SROs, but for other schools in northwest Missouri, police won’t be the only uniformed law enforcement patrolling the hallways this year.

The Missouri Highway Patrol will be sending troopers into schools throughout the district as a part of their School Walkthrough Initiative. During school hours troopers will walk through the school buildings and interact with students.

Sergeant Gara Howard said Troop H plans to visit over 100 schools in northwest Missouri over the course of the school year.

"The main focus is just to get the troopers into the schools. [They] get to meet the children, get to become familiar with the facility, the layout of the building,"Howard said.

Due to the size of the Highway Patrol’s coverage area, Howard said it is easier for troopers to spend more time in counties with fewer schools.

“We try to get to all of them (the schools) at least once during the school year. Some of the counties where there are less schools, the troopers get to go there a lot more often,” Howard said. "[In] some of the outlying counties, I know some of the officers have already started hitting the schools today."

Troopers aren’t limited to spending time with students during school hours, this year many are taking on additional responsibilities to boost their community presence.

“It’s not just during school hours. We try to focus on that, that’s when a majority of kids are there. It’s going to the games on Friday nights,” Howard said.“Some of the troopers have some reading programs, they’ll stop by some of the school and read to the kids or play games. It’s very different for each officer how much he wants to interact with the kids.”

Kallauner said spending time with students at Truman and Bode Middle School helps students become comfortable approaching SROs as they transition into larger schools.

"I feel it's important to get those relationships when they're younger, even in the elementary schools. That way when they are coming up and get into the high schools, they know who we are. They can come to us, they can talk to us,” Kallauner said.

For schools fortunate enough to have the support of their own SROs and the Highway Patrol, Howard said troopers like to establish a relationship with SROs in case of an emergency.

“We walk around the school with them, we make sure we have a relationship with them,” Howard said. “If they need something they know they can call us anytime and we’ll be there to help them.”

Teachers and staff in the district are also taking on additional responsibilities to keep students safe. Kallauner said in addition to SROs securing the schools; volunteer staff is typically present during class changes, lunch shifts and in the parking lots before and after school.

Kallauner said while he feels the school district is very safe, additional officers could improve the overall safety of the district.

“We’re all trained the same, we can all handle the same stuff, there’s options for us.We are spread a little thin, but I think with what we’re working with I think we’re doing a really good job,” Kallauner said.

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