After three and a half years as the school resource officer (SRO), Bret Henning of the Ripon Police Department will switch roles by returning to regular patrol.
The department announced via social media earlier this week that Sgt. Lindsey Michels, who previously served as SRO from 2015 to 2017, returned to that role Tuesday on an interim basis until a permanent replacement is hired.
The moves come as the Ripon Police Department reevaluates the role of its SRO and works to modify it for the start of 2021.
According to Police Chief Bill Wallner, the COVID-19 pandemic gave the police department an opportunity to begin discussing reformatting the SRO position as only half of middle school and high school students are at school at a given time.
“It was a good time for us to have some serious discussions about our SRO program and some changes that we're looking at in the future,” he told the Commonwealth.
Wallner added the department is looking to make the SRO position a year-round assignment moving forward, rather than transitioning the SRO into a regular patrol position during the summer months.
“We’ve seen over the last couple of years that there is a need to have some presence during the summer school months, so we wanted to make sure that we could address that with the SRO,” Wallner said, noting the department also is looking to potentially make the SRO position responsible for enforcing city ordinances and municipal codes during the summer.
Additionally, the department is looking to combine the SRO’s responsibilities with those of the community liaison officer (CLO), which include planning community outreach programs such as the National Night Out.
“They would also be responsible for meeting with different organizations as a representative of the police department,” Wallner said.
The discussions about how to modify the SRO position have been ongoing, and Wallner noted Henning was involved in those conversations and didn’t express interest in continuing on in the reformatted position.
“We had a conversation with officer Henning after he looked at the requirements and the job description for the new SRO/CLO position and he decided that he wasn't interested,” Wallner said. "So, we decided that now was the right time for that change after being in that position for three and a half years.”
Meanwhile, Michels was interested in taking over as interim SRO while the department works to hire a permanent replacement.
“She's very familiar with the position and the processes within the school,” Wallner said. “Obviously, we were very happy that she offered to take that over on an interim basis.”
Wallner noted the position will be posted within the department, which allows internal candidates to apply. The reformed position is set to begin when students return from winter break.
“That allows the officers to think about the position, re-review the qualifications and the requirements of the position and decide whether they want to apply for that or not,” Wallner said, noting the department expects to have an idea of who the new SRO will be by late November or early December.
Depending on who fills the position, the department may have to work to fill a vacated position.
For example, Wallner said that if an investigator or sergeant were to get the SRO position, the department would have to begin another internal process to fill the vacant position.
“We're not looking to add an officer,” he said. “We’re looking for an internal candidate that would get that SRO position and then wherever that comes from within the ranks, whether it's a patrol sergeant or an investigator, we would then have to backfill that position.
Wallner noted the search for a new SRO/CLO is important because over the last 30 years law enforcement’s role has shifted.
“We pride ourselves on trying to build relationships within the community,” he said. “There's much more of a social work aspect that comes with law enforcement now than ever before.”
Specifically, Wallner added that the SRO position is critical to building those connections with area youth.
“The SRO plays a very important role in our relationship with our young people in the community,” he said. “It establishes that relationship between young people and law enforcement.”
At the end of the day, Wallner is thankful for Henning’s and Michels’ “continued dedication to the important role of school resource officer.”