LEXINGTON — Police presence in Lexington’s schools is yielding positive results as hoped.
Currently two sworn police officers on Lexington Police Department’s force work as school resource officers, or SROs. They are police officers assigned to work within schools during the school year and return to street patrol during the summer months.
It is a joint effort between the Lexington Public Schools and the Lexington Police Department and it has been a great partnership, said LPD Chief Tracy Wolf.
“It serves as a bridge between the officers and the kids and we are seeing the benefits,” he said.
Chad Reutlinger became an SRO in February 2014. Not quite a year later he was joined by Luke Pinkelman. Together they share the workload of overseeing Lexington Public School’s nine school buildings and they each have an office within a school. Reutlinger is based out of Lexington High School and Pinkelman is at Lexington Middle School.
“These guys are a major asset to the department,” said Wolf. “Chad and Luke are very well suited for the position and are excellent mentors for the kids at all levels.”
“We’re building positive relationships with the kids,” said Pinkelman.
He said students learn to see police officers as human beings, like themselves, with similar interests.
“We’re not writing tickets and being that person who ruins their day,” said Pinkelman.
Reutlinger said he views an SRO as having three primary roles: to act as a counselor with kids, to be an educator regarding law enforcement and to handle law violations. An additional role is to ensure student safety, said Pinkelman.
Reutlinger said the majority of his time is spent in the role of being an “independent counselor.” He said kids take in information from various sources —including from a school counselor and their parents — and are looking for help to sort through what they’ve been told.
Pinkelman said kids have a lot of confidence issues and worry about things that are beyond their control.
“Every kid is different. Whatever their problems are, we try to give them resources and help the family out,” said Pinkelman.
He said he has developed a lot of empathy through working with kids.
Another role for the SROs is to help kids understand the law and what police officers do.
There are mixed perceptions about police officers, said Pinkelman. “Kids didn’t understand our role or how we operate,” he said.
Lexington Middle School Principal Scott West said one of the biggest benefits has been the shift in perceptions regarding the role of a police officer, from bad guy to good guy. He said he is unsure why, but the sight of an officer used to invoke fear.
“They are not here to harm. They are concerned with the safety of everyone. They are here to protect. They are here to serve. It is setting students at ease when there is an officer in the building,” he said.
He said having Pinkelman consistently at the school leads to casual conversations, and students feel comfortable to talk with him one on one. Sometimes they ask about something that happened to them or report on something they saw outside of school. Some kids ask questions about what it is like to be a police officer.
“There is nothing better than having someone who is in law enforcement to be the one providing education about the law,” said Reutlinger.
Reutlinger and Pinkelman teach G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education and Training) to fifth and sixth graders respectively.
Reutlinger said they don’t teach about gangs. Rather, they teach about life, decision making and choices. “We give them tools to make the right choices,” he said.
Pinkelman said G.R.E.A.T. is a six to seven week course taught during health class and includes a lot of skill building.
Additionally, as teachers request, the officers come into classrooms to work with students on a requested topic.
The officers are also within schools to enforce the law and handle any law violations.
Pinkelman said Lexington has good kids. “We really do have a good student population, wanting to learn and try new things, and they are respectful for the most part” he said.
While Lexington has a highly diverse student population, Pinkelman said he hasn’t seen issues arise because of that.
“You still see scuffles and fights, but the main thing we handle today is the social media bullying that goes on. That is probably the toughest to analyze and help the kids out on,” said Reutlinger.
He said kids aren’t clear about what is inappropriate and lose the filter or restraint they would probably have in a face to face interaction.
“You give power and control of a mini computer to immature kids and they unfortunately just can’t handle it,” said Reutlinger.
He said when kids are with a mobile device in a comfortable place, such as home, “there is no thought of the repercussions that might come.”
“It’s become more of an issue in the four years, said Reutlinger. “We’re getting younger and younger people using it.”
The SROs also have a concern for school safety, especially in a world racked with incidences of school violence.
“It is a reality and we need to be prepared to respond or prevent violence,” said Reutlinger. “We’re focused on that every single minute that we’re there.”
He said they always look for ways to improve school safety and become better.
A newly implemented practice this school year is that everybody who enters a school goes through one door and checks in at the office to receive an ID badge.
The officers helped the schools implement a response protocol for various scenarios. Reutlinger said they train staff and educate students on what to do if violence were to occur.
“We make sure the kids are following the steps properly,” said Pinkelman of practicing drills.
“I think we are well ahead of the game to make sure kids are safe when they come to school and that it’s a good environment to be around,” said Pinkelman.
Both officers said they like their job.
“It’s enjoyable,” said Reutlinger. “This is another part of we do to serve and educate the community by serving and educating the youth at our school, who are our future,” said Reutlinger. “To see law enforcement in not a negative role, but in a positive role can only positively impact the future and I believe it has.”
LHS Principal Kyle Hoehner said Reutlinger has been a great asset to the school as he works with kids alongside teachers and administrators.
“He has an amazing presence without being over the top or overly aggressive. At the same time people know they need to be accountable,” said Hoehner.
“The school resource officer program has been the most positive addition that I can remember since I’ve been with the Lexington Police Department,” said Wolf. “It is a win-win for all involved and our community benefits.”