Inside Your Sheriff's Office: Partnering with Schools
Deputy Darin Huisjen starts his day greeting students at Redlands Mesa Middle School. He is one of several Mesa County Sheriff's Office deputies who are School Resource Officers - specialty-trained deputies stationed at our local schools.
"One of my favorite things is interacting with the kids in a non-law enforcement role because it helps to show them that they can feel comfortable around deputies and officers and can help guide them. We are people they can turn to for help," said Deputy Darin Huisjen.
School Resource Officers (SRO) work in partnership with Mesa County Valley School District 51 and other law enforcement agencies to keep our schools safe. Deputies are a uniformed police presence able to intervene immediately should an emergency occur.
"My number one goal has always been school safety. Having a presence at the school is extremely important because it acts as a deterrent. When students are safe, teachers are allowed to teach without worrying about something happening," said SRO Deputy Mike Dixon.
Mesa County Sheriff's Office School Resource Officers (SROs) not only provide safety and security at our local schools, but they also get to know students and often become positive mentors.
"I sit down, and I listen. I keep an open door at Central High School so kids can come down and get away if they need to. It gives them time to vent their frustrations from an argument they got in with peers or maybe their parents. Sometimes just having someone to talk to helps them, but there have been plenty of times I walk through their scenario with them, and they find a solution with a little guidance," said Deputy Dixon.
School Resource Officers are also informal counselors, teachers, and problem-solvers. Deputies help support school administration in assisting students in working through problems and growing into well-rounded adults.
"It's important to have the SROs at the schools to build positive relationships. We want students to build positive relationships with SROs in the event they have any concerns or questions about safety and security." Tim Leon, D51 Director of Safety and Security.
Mesa County Sheriff's Office School Resources Officers say that's one of the most enjoyable parts of their job.
"I have a lot of conversations about life choices that students make, both good and bad, and how they can have an impact on our future. Conversations like that go a long way and open the door for students to come to us with other issues and confide in us," said Deputy Huisjen. "If the students know there is a trusted adult or law enforcement officer at the school, they are more comfortable coming to us with information. I have solved many cases with tips or information that a student has come to me with,"
Grand Mesa Middle School Principal Kim Davis has seen the positive influence SROs have had on her students. "We love him. Sergeant Montover is calm and quiet; he really gets to know our kids. He knows all of our kids. He really is part of our team. He does a lot of community outreach for us."
The Mesa County Sheriff's Office Citizens on Patrol (COP) volunteers are an extension of that effort. These highly trained volunteers help keep an eye on schools, checking in regularly with area schools, helping reduce speeding in school zones, and providing an additional uniformed presence around our schools.
Bryan Wright has been a volunteer with Citizens on Patrol for about five years. "It's important to give back as a member of the community. I really enjoy going out and providing these services, whether they be a school check, or VIN inspection, or assisting deputies with an incident, it is very rewarding personally, and it makes a difference in our community," said Wright.
During the summer, COP volunteers also escort the Lunch Lizard, the District's summer meal program, and use the opportunity to create positive interactions with kids in the community.
"I'm happy to be that friendly face that helps reinforce to kids that we are someone you can turn to for help," said Wright.
The nearly 40 COP volunteers come from various backgrounds, including retired education and law enforcement professionals and CMU students looking to gain experience for a future career in law enforcement.
For younger students thinking about a career in the criminal justice system, the Mesa County Sheriff's Office offers the Youth Explorer program. This program provides an opportunity for students ages 14-20 to learn valuable skills and interact with the criminal justice community to gain a realistic picture of what a career in law enforcement entails.
Whether through a School Resource Officer, a COP volunteer, or the Youth Explorer program, quality time spent with students can make a positive difference in someone's life.
Deputy Huisjen recalls one student, in particular, that was able to turn his life around. When Deputy Huisjen worked as a patrol deputy, he arrested the juvenile multiple times for various crimes. A time later, he found himself as the School Resource Officer where the student attended.
"We spoke and built up a good relationship to the point where the student would check in with me in my office regularly. Then he began to show excitement on how his grades were improving, and he may be able to graduate one day," said Deputy Huisjen.
That day came. Deputy Huisjen was honored to be in the audience during his graduation.
"I was thrilled to hear his name get called. When all of the students were leaving the field, he spotted me, ran over to me, and gave me a huge hug. It was just really cool to see him be so excited and watch him succeed," said Deputy Huisjen.
To learn more about the Mesa County Sheriff's Office School Resource Officer program, click here.
Inside Your Sheriff's Office is a series looking at how the Mesa County Sheriff's Office is finding innovative solutions, working together with community partners, and pioneering new criminal justice programs with the goal of making our community safer. To learn more about this series, click here.