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Illinois looks to mandate school resource officer training

Many McHenry County police departments say SROs already get trained

School Resource Officer Rick Rewiako walks through the hallways with Jimmy Nowak between classes at McHenry High School West Campus on Friday, May 11, 2018, in McHenry.
School Resource Officer Rick Rewiako walks through the hallways with Jimmy Nowak between classes at McHenry High School West Campus on Friday, May 11, 2018, in McHenry.

A bill has been proposed that would mandate a training program for school resource officers but some McHenry County department heads said they already put resource officers through specialized training.

School resource officers typically are created as part of a deal between a municipality and the school district. A department generally will assign one of its officers to work out of the school buildings at a district and serve as a first line of defense to resolve conflicts and encourage community-orientated policing.

There isn’t a training requirement in place for school resource officers in Illinois. However, some agencies, such as the National Association of School Resource Officers, do provide training courses throughout the year for those who want to opt in, Illinois School Resource Officers Association President Jerry Guetschow said.

“We recommend they do get specialized training because it’s a specialized position,” he said.

Senate Bill 2856, introduced to the Illinois General Assembly earlier this year, could amend the Illinois Police Training Act and require school resource officers to take a minimum of 40 hours of training within a year of assignment to the school district. The current proposal also calls for 16 hours of additional training annually.

Training would cover conflicts specific to dealing with student populations such as bullying, cyberbullying, sexting and drug abuse, according to the bill that was referred to the Assignments committee in April.

State Sen. Pamela Althoff, R- McHenry, is on the committee but couldn’t be reached for comment on the bill for this story. Guetschow said pieces of the bill seemed impractical.

“We also see some training requirements that would be a duplication of training,” he said. “… But if a training mandate went through, it would be a better way of tracking. …There is no set tracking for school resource officers.”

Some McHenry County police departments already send officers to training if they are going to be assigned as a resource officer, including the Harvard and Cary police departments.

“It is just for officers that are going to serve as [resource officers] otherwise it’d be a waste of money,” Cary Deputy Chief James Filmore said.

Harvard Police Department also sends its resource officers through training. The department typically uses NASRO’s 40-hour basic school resource officer training, said Police Chief Mark Krause, who served as the district’s first resource officer in 1997.

The training includes information on public speaking, dealing with students’ emotional issues, family dynamics, substance abuse, classroom management and specialized law enforcement training related to school safety, he said.

He said school resource officers operate under the “triad concept,” which essentially says a resource officer is part teacher, part counselor and part police officer.

“I think there is a misconception out there that we are in there making arrests and throwing kids into jail,” Krause said. “... That wouldn’t be effective.”

He said that if the state mandates more or different training, the department would make it happen.

“Our school district is committed to keeping a school resource officer. The city is committed to keeping a school resource officer,” Krause said. “... The resource officer is the first line of a defense a school has.”

Harvard District 50’s school resource officer Ed Kohn said the majority of his work throughout the day includes interacting with students, building rapport and helping students understand both law enforcement and the law. He also teaches classes about things such as cyberbullying, sexting and the legal implications of those behaviors.

“When you are able to gain trust, I have found over years students will come to you – whether they are interested in a specific law or have information about another student that has something going on,” Kohn said.

About 1,531 people completed NASRO’s Basic SRO Course in 2017. One offering of the course currently is scheduled in Illinois during 2018, with 40 people currently registered, according to the organization.

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