School officer bridges cops, community

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February 22, 2018 ~ Kanabec County Times

Fancy car, hip hairdo, trim figure and a big smile ­—he’s pretty much the coolest dude at school. The uniform, radio, gun and Taser won’t hurt his popularity either.

On Feb. 5, deputy Justin Strom of the Kanabec County Sheriff’s Office headed to the halls of Mora and Ogilvie schools with the goal of bonding with students and steering at-risk kids in the right direction as he takes on the newly-established role of school resource officer.

School resource officers are part of a community-oriented policing strategy that focuses on building relationships within communities that prevents crime. One aspect of this is to connect with kids who may have had negative past experiences with police.

“We are showing that we are the good guys and we are here to help,” Strom said. As an example, Strom recalled reading a story book to a group of elementary students. One student seemed particularly afraid of being near a uniformed officer. A year later, Strom read to the same student and noticed the student was no longer apprehensive. Instead, the student interacted and was asking questions.

This is exactly the result officers are looking for as they perform outreach activities like visiting classrooms, daycares and participating in events like National Night Out or Shop With A Cop. The ultimate goal being to prevent and intervene on crime rather than reacting to crime only after it occurs.

Adding a school resource officer position has been a long-time goal for Sheriff Brian Smith, but funding the position has been a consistent barrier. After multiple failed grant applications, a partnership between the county and the two school districts was able to fund the full-time position.

During the school year, Strom will be dividing his time between the two school districts. About 80 percent of his time will be spent teaching classes meant to encourage responsible decision making among all grades K-12.

The curriculum is built from the familiar DARE program, which was revised in 2009 to focus less on education about drugs, but more on responsible decision making and life skills that give children skills to avoid involvement in drugs, gangs and violence.

Other than being a police officer, Strom at one time had considered teaching as a career choice. He said this position for him is “the best of both worlds.”

The rest of Strom’s time will be spent simply having a presence during lunch hours and passing time between classes.

Strom said, “The overall goal is to create relationships.” Strom emphasized that his role as a school resource officer is not to be added security or enforcement. His mission is to be more of a role model, mentor, informal counselor, educator and liaison between family services, law enforcement and the school.

Strom said he had his own negative experiences as a child and could relate to a lot of the rough lives many students go through. He hopes he could help kids navigate those struggles.

“This is just letting kids know that someone cares about them and letting them know they aren’t alone.”

In the summer months, Strom will provide mentorship to area students through positive activities and interactions, perhaps by taking kids fishing or to a baseball game.

Deputy Strom has been employed by the Kanabec County Sheriff’s Office since 2014.

SOURCE: Kanabec County Times

Posted in News/Announcements.