The Belle Plaine Police Department is partnering with Belle Plaine Public Schools to have two school liaison officers as available resources for students and faculty.
BPHS Principal Melinda Chevalier said that Police Chief Terry Stier broached the idea to her this past spring while the two were working on creating a social-distanced graduation processional.
“I told him I was all on board,” said Chevalier. “Our district and all of our principals appreciate the work that the PD does with our school, with our kids, with our staff, and it’s really nice to have that police presence accessible.”
Formerly, Officer Brian Vycital acted as the school resource officer until being promoted to patrol sergeant in June of 2019. The schools have not had an officer assigned to them since that time. The city council and the public safety committee requested that Police Chief Stier create a plan for resuming police presence in the public schools.
Officer Apryl Grund began her duties as school liaison officer on Wednesday, Sept. 9, and Officer Nik Friedges started Monday, Sept. 14. They are assigned to the schools five days a week and will be present at recess and lunches when possible, as well as travel with the sports teams.
“They’ll be present at our different activities and events to create those relationships and get to know the kids both inside the school day and outside the school day,” said Chevalier. Both officers will continue working patrol duties and being called out as needed, but they will make any school-related calls their priority.
Besides their skill as public safety officials and willingness to serve in the schools, Stier believes that the two officers will be especially effective thanks to their age.
“They’re the youngest officers we have in the department, so the high school students will relate better to them rather than a 40- or 50-year-old officer,” said Stier. “The younger officers are excited, they’re enthusiastic, they have big ideas, and they want to help kids and build relationships. When the officers are in the school and they’re having fun with the kids, the kids in crisis won’t just see cops when everything is bad.”
Both officers’ first days at the schools provided a good snapshot of their day-to-day activities. Grund assisted in apprehending the suspects in a vandalism, while Friedges played with students during recess and had lunch with high school students.
In addition to daily interaction with students, the officers will soon be providing safety and awareness programs for the different grades.
“We’re currently developing programs that we’re going to try in the school district to see what works best for the city of Belle Plaine,” Stier said. “Instead of the DARE program at a younger age, we’re looking into more of an eighth- or ninth-grade drugs and choices program. We’re pulling from other departments to see what they’re doing and how we can tailor it to Belle Plaine.”
Belle Plaine teachers and principals anticipate great outcomes from having strong additional resources for the kids they teach. Chevalier remembered that students would specifically request Vycital when they had questions or situations that required a public safety official’s input and expects that the students will quickly begin to view Grund and Friedges as friends.
“They will be our go-to people if we ever need any support, whether it’s a conversation with a kid or some kind of investigation,” Chevalier said. “I just appreciate it so much that they are willing to come in and build relationships on the front end, so that on the back end you have that connection and it’s more of a teachable moment than discipline. They build this sense of trust.”