New Richmond students will notice a new face walking the halls this school year as Officer Aaron Anderson — the district's new Student Resource Officer — familiarizes himself with students and staff members.
"Craig and his department have done a great job of infusing officers into our school district through various programs, whether it is reading to them or offering different curriculum opportunities. Aaron will basically take some of that on and we are also looking at some future curriculum and resources to see where we can make improvements in other areas," said District Administrator Patrick Olson. "The SRO will be very busy. He will be responsible for covering our entire district. He will be located at the high school, but he will also be visiting all of our other sites, including St. Mary's during his normal weekly routine."
When the New Richmond SRO position was posted, Anderson — who has been with the department since 2012 as a patrol officer — jumped at the chance to work more closely with the students and staff throughout the district.
"While I was on patrol, I always gravitated toward the schools. I would always take time out of my day while nothing else was going on to take a proactive walk through the schools and also chat with some students or staff members," Anderson said. "When the police department got requests from the district for an officer to speak with students for educational things, I was usually one of the ones to volunteer for that. Working with students and within the district was just something I enjoyed doing."
According to Olson, the police department and the City of New Richmond have been working with the district to apply for grants to finance the SRO position within the district for awhile.
"We were spending, between all of our officers, an exorbitant amount of time in the schools for various reasons and not all of them bad," said Police Chief Craig Yehlik. "We were really finding out that the complaints that we were taking at the high school and middle school were ones that we were really missing out on what the underlying issue was. There wasn't that piece, from a law enforcement standpoint, to really follow through to solve the problem. We can put a Bandaid on it with a ticket, and that will work for awhile. But our goal is to get the compliance long-term and make sure the needs of our students are being met."
Anderson, Yehlik said, was one of three internal candidates to apply for the position. He was selected due to his infectious personality and his ability to communicate with people of all ages.
"He has a very outgoing personality that I think will draw students in at all ages. We were looking for someone who was approachable and has the ability to smile and laugh, but takes his job very seriously while not being afraid to be vulnerable," Yehlik said.
Anderson is excited to bring creativity to the district, including brainstorming ideas for unique programs.
"I also want to get to know the students and the staff. I've spent a lot of time over my first few days here walking around the school getting to know the staff members and I'll do that with the students when they get here," Anderson said. "I'm just happy to be here and be part of the district. It is a great opportunity for myself and the whole district. I look forward to working together."
Yehlik said the SRO position fits perfectly with the department and the school district's stance on school safety, active shooter response and creating a safe environment for students and staff.
"Now we have somebody here that if something criminal does take place, since he is right here at the beginning of the investigation," Yehlik said. "The school has always worked so well with our officers when they come here, but our school officials aren't detectives or police officers. I think there is a benefit by having him here from a safety standpoint."
Anderson will work closely with the department's K-9 unit to keep drugs out of the schools. Although students know that Anderson will be somewhere every day, Yehlik said he will also be "predictably unpredictable."
"People aren't going to know where he is at from minute-to-minute," Yehlik said. "He might be here, he might be there. Even if there isn't a squad car in front of the school, it doesn't mean there won't be an officer in the building, since Officer Anderson will be driving different cars often in order to be unpredictable. I think that is a benefit to anybody that would be planning on coming here to break the rules or do anyone harm."
Yehlik will stand in front of the student bodies at the beginning of the year assemblies to tell students that he is not trying to trick them or come after them. He just wants everyone to be clear that keeping drugs out of the school is both a district and police department priority.
"It should also be noted that this is a work in progress. This is uncharted territory for our police department and the school district. We are open to suggestions. What we are looking for is the underlying issue. This isn't a school to jail program. We are not the disciplinarian in the school," Yehlik said. "The school is still going to handle all the discipline. We are here for the criminal end, the school safety end, the educational end and to add value to everything the district is already doing."
According to Olson, Anderson will be present at a variety of school functions and events throughout the school year.
"I feel like the job really focuses on building relationships with the students and staff throughout the district. He can be that extra resource to be available for everyone in the district," Olson said.