School staff value police resource officers

The job of a school resource officer (SRO) comes with a need for flexibility.

The job of a school resource officer (SRO) comes with a need for flexibility.

Police who work in schools at Wolf Creek Public Schools (WCPS) say the trick is to build trust in the students and sometimes that might mean not writing tickets. Three officers met with staff at the WCPS support staff conference Feb. 20 and 21 in Lacombe.

These SROs work closely with students and teachers in the schools and each one took pride in their daily interactions with kids. Constables Glen Ford of the Lacombe Police Service, Ryan Koehli, of the Ponoka RCMP and Leanne Zielke, of the RCMP, based in Blackfalds — she covers smaller schools and communities — answered questions from attendees.

Ford says he tries to keep an open door for students and feels no question is too silly; the same goes for teachers and staff. “Feel free to ask us any questions when we’re walking in the hallway.”

There is some ambiguity to the job, said Ford, who has to find a balance between policing and working to solve issues. Results may not necessarily be in the number of tickets issued but more in preventing incidents.

Ford says handing out 25 tickets for smoking may not be the best way to track results as the job requires SROs to gain the trust of students. “We’re dealing with different challenges.

For Zielke, it took almost two years before students felt comfortable enough to discuss their challenges with her. She takes an informal approach when getting to know students.

“Sometimes I get my biggest value just hanging out in the hallway,” explained Zielke.

She finds herself helping out in classes at times and this has created a stronger rapport with students. Zielke also enjoys running safety programs and organizes bike safety programs to students when the time allows.

Sometimes a student needs to hear that their actions are illegal. Zielke says she reads the actual Criminal Code to students so they understand the consequences of their actions.

“Because they don’t understand that what they’re doing is illegal and the whole idea with social media now and our availability or access to instant gratification,” she explained. “You’re mad at someone and you take this picture and post it on Instagram, now.”

Despite the challenges officers face with the proliferation and ease of sharing photos, Ford says there are benefits as well. He has stopped planned fights because students can text him before an altercation happens.

For just over a year, Koehli has been working as a SRO in Ponoka and he said students would contact him at all hours of the day. He feels plans change on a daily basis but is also able to help students in tough times.

Programs such as the Youth Justice Committee and alternative measures are used as a way of mitigating issues.

Staff at Ponoka Secondary Campus feel his presence is a benefit to the school.

“The SRO program in our school has made a huge difference,” said Rhonda Slater.

She has found that students look at Koehli with a friendly face and others know he is there to protect students.

Ford says he has worked closely with support staff at schools in Lacombe and suggests it is support staff that have been able to provide him with valuable insight into students’ lives.

“The truth is, the girl working the front counter that sees everyone walking in the door, she knows everything,” said Ford.

Each officer handles more than one school and is on contract with WCPS. Ponoka’s SRO is partially paid for by Ponoka County and WCPS. The Town of Ponoka was asked last year to pay a portion of the cost bust declined to participate.