WEST CHICAGO – In an effort to enhance school safety and create positive relationships between students and police, new initiatives were introduced this year to increase the police presence in West Chicago Elementary School District 33.
From monthly lunches to regular building walk-throughs, members of the West Chicago Police Department are becoming a common sight for students as the school year progresses.
The district has long had a partnership with the department that has included the introduction of the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in the 1980s and membership on the district’s Safety Committee when it formed 17 years ago.
“It’s gotten consistently stronger as time has gone on. It really has, and it’s a very positive thing,” said West Chicago Police Sgt. Spencer Kroning, who has served with both initiatives.
The department also is involved in the WeGo Together for Kids program, which offers services to families and connects them to resources from its more than 40 community partners.
The push to have more officers at District 33 schools this year came at the request of patrol officers, who typically helped with traffic flow near the schools at the start and end of the day and wanted to do more, Kroning said.
This has led to walk-throughs by police at a few schools each day. District 33 also has invited police to park outside its schools while completing paperwork.
Having police cars stationed outside the schools could serve as a deterrent to anyone with ill intent, said Marjory Lewe-Brady, the district’s director of partnerships for wellness, safety and achievement.
With regular walk-throughs at each building, police are better prepared to respond to emergencies if something arises at a school, Officer Waylon Potts said.
After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Conn., District 33 changed its process for allowing visitors, requiring them to show ID outside each school before being allowed in.
“Sandy Hook caused all schools to rethink what they were doing,” Lewe-Brady said.
The district also started a fingerprint background check program with the police department last school year for volunteers who would be alone with students during the school day or on field trips.
However, the changes do not solely focus on prevention.
Another aspect of the enhanced partnership is to form supportive relationships between the police department, students and families.
Moving forward this school year, two police officers will eat lunch at a district school once a month, with the hopes of making the lunches weekly next school year, Lewe-Brady said.
“We want to have a good rapport with the students,” said Potts, who regularly visits the schools. “They feel like if there is a problem that they know they can come to us and talk to us about that.”
District 33’s School Resource Officer, who is based at Leman Middle School, is spending more time this year visiting the district’s other schools.
“We want that resource to be more visible to our children and families,” Lewe-Brady said.
With the recent news of a gang-related stabbing that allegedly involved two West Chicago teens, police hope their involvement with students from a young age will help prevent similar incidents in the future.
“If it helps just once, that’s worth every bit of it,” Kroning said. “But we certainly hope that it makes a noted difference in the impressionable young minds that are in those buildings.”