Officer on duty
Most students, whether they were in elementary, middle school or high school after 1983, will remember the days when they were taken out of the classroom and led into an auditorium to find a police officer standing in front of the room while other students shuffled in.
The officer was not waiting for the students in order to punish them, he or she was preparing a demonstration to warn and educate students of the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
But more importantly, the officer probably wanted to inform the students that resources were available from law enforcement; police officers were not there to simply serve the adults in the community, but they were there to protect and serve all members of the community.
Today, many students are unaware of the law enforcement resources that are available and some are even suspicious of law enforcement in general.
That is why Sheriff’s deputy D.J. Bullerman of the Faribault County Sheriff’s Department decided to apply for the job as Blue Earth Area’s new School Resource Officer, or SRO.
Bullerman had worked for the Blue Earth Police Department for nine years until he began working with the Faribault County Sheriff’s Department in 2011.
At the beginning of this year, the FCSD deputies were informed of a new assignment: to serve as the SRO?for the Blue Earth Area School system.
Just like applying for a new job, Bullerman and three others had to submit a letter of interest and a resume. Each candidate was then interviewed by school staff. When all was said and done, the staff had chosen Bullerman.
“There were a couple of reasons that I was interested,”?Bullerman explains.?”First, I feel I get along with kids really well I?have three kids of my own. I also like the idea of what an SRO?does.”
The primary duty of an SRO?will always be to protect student and staff safety. In order to do so, Bullerman is trained in investigating any criminal activities that take place in the school, on school property or on school buses.
Criminal activity can include anything from bullying on the school bus to locker theft to struggles at home. No matter the degree of the criminal activity, Bullerman is there to serve as a resource for students and staff alike.
“If I’m in the school every day and they see me, it will be easier for them to come in and tell me if something is going on and they can do it anonymously,” Bullerman says.
The Blue Earth Area High School previously had an SRO?in the building full-time. Eventually, that position dropped down to part-time and then it dissipated entirely.
“If something did happen at the school in the past few years, the school would call the police department to come out and handle it,” Bullerman says.
However, not only was that soaking up the school’s monetary resources, but it also took away from time that the officer could have spent patrolling the streets.
“There is only one officer on duty during the afternoon, so if the issue at school took an hour, that was an hour that he or she wasn’t out patrolling,” Bullerman says.
Therefore, Bullerman believes that it is in the best interest of the school and the city that an SRO?is in place.
And so far, he’s right.
Though Bullerman has only been on the job for about a month, he has already investigated a few thefts.
There has been an issue with the lockers at the high school for several years now. Students ‘jam’ their lockers so they don’t have to open it with a combination each time.
However, ‘jamming’ the lockers has already led to a couple of thefts this year something that worries school administration considering the newly implemented Chromebooks.
“I just have to explain to them that I’m not doing this to be difficult, I’m not doing this to be mean,” Bullerman says. “But if I can keep the lockers locked, it’s helping me and you. It’s better to go back to a locked locker than a locker with nothing in it.”
Other than investigating theft and enforcing new school rules and procedures, Bullerman has spent the last month trying to develop rapport with the students.
“I’m not here for disciplinary action and I don’t want to come across as a bully to kids,” Bullerman explains. “I would rather be here to help them or listen if they need someone to talk to.”
Again, Bullerman stresses the fact that one of his personal missions is to bridge the gap between law enforcement and students who have negative impressions of police officers.
“The only thing they know about police officers is what they hear on TV, or what parents or friends who have had a negative experience tell them,” Bullerman explains.
He believes that the negative impressions that students have of law enforcement begin during childhood.
“The middle school and elementary students are great because they are still young enough that they don’t see law enforcement as a threat. They just want a high-five or to eat lunch with you,” Bullerman says with a laugh. “Whereas in the high school, when I sit down for lunch next to a group of students, many of them are still skeptical.”
Whether it is a parent jokingly trying to improve the behavior of a child by saying, “you better behave, or he’ll take you to jail,” or a parent or guardian who had a bad experience with law enforcement, Bullerman believes that those impressions rub off on children, making them less likely to trust law enforcement later in life.
“I want them to know from an early age that law enforcement isn’t here to punish them or ‘bring them to jail,'” Bullerman says. “We’re here to help them and keep them safe.”
Bullerman looks forward to establishing relationships with students who are now in elementary school so he can see how a student’s trust in law enforcement develops by having an SRO at the school full-time.
“I think it’s important to be there, and I think it will be more important the longer I’m in the school,” Bullerman says. “I’m excited to see this come full circle.”