Top 10: District, NRPD couldn't be happier with how SRO position is turning out
Editor's note: This story is part of a series looking back at some of the biggest stories of 2018. Find the rest of the series here: Top Ten 2018
It has only been three months since Officer Aaron Anderson took on the position of School Resource Officer, but both the New Richmond Police Department and the school district couldn't be happier with how things are going.
"It has been great. We've been trying to do this for years now. We knew having an SRO would go well, but it has been better than what we imagined," said New Richmond High School Principal Tom Wissink. "Aaron has been a great addition. Having his presence here has made things safer and makes us feel safer. He has done a great job of building relationships with kids."
Building relationships with students will always be a work in progress, given how many students there are throughout the district, but Anderson is happy with the interactions he is having with students.
"I feel like I'm making good headway in making connections and getting to know as many of the students as I can. I'm getting a lot of good feedback from the students," Anderson said. "Nobody is shy to approach me. I have students interacting with me all the time, either saying hi or asking how my day is. They ask me to participate in whatever classroom activities they have going on at the time."
New Richmond Chief of Police Craig Yehlik said he has heard nothing but positives from those he has talked to about the SRO position and Anderson.
"Everyone who had contacted me has been stating that this was way overdue. We are just really excited to have him here making those connections with the kids," Yehlik said. "In my mind, it has been positive from front to back. We just have to keep that rolling. I think great things are ahead of us."
Anderson is responsible for seven buildings throughout the district, including St. Mary School, and has been able to spend plenty of time with students in every building, as well as out in the community.
"He gets out to sporting events, out and about in the building and is out during lunch time. He has been in classrooms, as well, so the kids are getting to know him in addition to knowing him as an officer. He is building relationships that are great for the kids. They are getting to know the people behind the badge, which I think is a great thing for everyone," Wissink said. "The kids are embracing his presence beyond just being a police officer who might give out a ticket. He is doing more than that and that is what we wanted."
In his short time working in the district, Anderson has had several students come to him with various complaints, which he has worked with building administration to handle.
"I feel like the students are more comfortable talking to me at the high school than they might be talking to an officer out in the community. They also ask me questions about the 'what ifs' out in the world. What can they do in this situation type of thing. I just try to guide them as best as I can," Anderson said.
Anderson's presence in the district has many benefits, according to Yehlik. It allows him to build relationships with students throughout the district and at every grade level.
"It is also important to note that Aaron is not only building relationships with students at the high school, but he is also getting into kindergarten classrooms reading to kids. He talks about the importance of reading, but also allows kids to see the uniform," Yehlik said. "As those kids come into the high school, and middle school, Aaron is already a familiar face. I think the benefits as we go into the future will become magnified. People will come to trust him." When a violation of school policy, ordinance or state law is brought to Anderson's attention, his first impulse isn't to write a ticket or citation. "Aaron is not just here strictly for enforcement. Every time he sees a violation of school policy, ordinance or state law, it doesn't mean it ends in a citation, arrest or otherwise. We are taking a very proactive approach to find what the underlying root cause of the behavior is," Yehlik said. "If we can solve it and correct that behavior by voluntary compliance or another means ... Aaron can do those things. And he has been doing a great job of finding that balance of enforcement and care, I guess you'd call it." According to Yehlik, Anderson keeps himself and District Administrator Patrick Olson up to date on what has been going on throughout the district.
"What it has showed us is that there is a need and he is filling a niche for both law enforcement and the school," Yehlik said. "We think that will probably have to expand in the future to maybe another SRO down the road. There is no time frame on that, but he is getting pulled in a million directions.
"He is thin, to say the least, but he is far exceeding the expectations any of us had."
Olson said that he and Yehlik will take a look at the SRO position at the end of school year to see what has worked and what hasn't, as well as what areas they want to focus on in the future.
"This is new for our district and community. Chief Yehlik and I sit down with SRO Anderson frequently to discuss what is going well and areas of opportunity so we can improve upon this joint venture," Olson said. "This position continue to evolve and we will learn a lot by years end. We will then reevaluate priorities to address next year."