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Liaison officers patrol hallways at LG schools



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January 21, 2014 | 02:57 PM
Kara Richardson and Theon Ward are glad to be where they are.

And school administrators are happy to have them there.

Officers Richardson and Ward are Lake Geneva Police School Liaison Officers, sometimes referred to as school resource officers.

Ward makes the rounds of the elementary and middle schools, while Richardson has an office at Badger High School, where she spends most of her day.

Richardson and Ward say they start their days as liaison officers outside the schools, meeting the students as they get off their buses.

Otherwise, it’s like the usual police work. Show up. Head off trouble before it happens and struggle with the police report software.

“Absolutely, I am very, very happy here,” Richardson said in a recent interview at the school. “It’s very different from patrol, which is a good thing.”

On this Friday morning, Richardson is still working on follow up paperwork left over from cases from this summer.

She was also sharing information about a student with a different police department’s liaison officer.

“We communicate regularly, which is good,” she said.

She was also keeping a watch on the clock. It was an end-of-semester exam day.

School let out at 11:06 a.m and Richardson wanted to make sure she was outside when the buses arrived to take the students home.

Richardson said she wants to do this work as long as she possibly can.

One of her allies is Michael McNally, the student adviser.

“I don’t like to get kids out of class,” said Richardson. It’s the uniform, she explained.

“Because even if they’re not in trouble, it’s ooooo and ahhhhh,” she said. McNally, as student supervisor, can call students out of class without causing an uproar or triggering gossip.

“Kara’s transitioned very well here,” McNally said later. “She’s got all of our support.”

Theon Ward has nearly seven years experience as a Lake Geneva police officer.

He spent three years assisting the earlier police liaison officer who operated in the elementary and middle schools.

Ward said that depending on his schedule, he’s at the schools within the Joint District 1 either two or three days a week.

“I like the positive interaction with the kids,” he said. “I think they feel safer knowing that a police officer can be there.”

Ward’s school liaison beat is Lake Geneva Middle School, Eastview and Central-Denison.

“I go to each of the schools at least three times a day,” Ward said.

Ward said he tries to be at all of the school arrivals and departures.

“They know they can come up to me,” Ward said. “They know they can talk to an officer.”

Some might view the liaison officer position as a stepping stone to a higher position. Not Ward.

“I want to retire as a liaison officer,” he said.

He said his only problem with the job is that it’s sometimes on, sometimes off.

“I wish it could be an everyday thing, but I’ll take what I can get.” he said. “I went into law enforcement because I want to help people.”

Both Ward and Richardson teach classes as well as provide security in the schools.

Ward said he teaches students about resisting alcohol, drugs and violence.

Richardson said she will be making an internet safety presentation to parents at First Lutheran Church, Lake Geneva. She said parents need to be updated on social media. Many parents still don’t realize that their children can talk to complete strangers over Xbox, she said.

Ward doesn’t have an office within the schools.

Richardson, on the other hand, doesn’t just have an office. She sits in a nerve center.

Within the liaison officer’s office, are five television screens, each divided into 16 panels, which show views from security cameras both inside and outside the school building.

It looks a bit like overkill, but Richardson said the security cameras come in handy, from tracking down students who habitually fail to return to class after a bathroom break to locating the source of disorderly behavior.

Richardson said she attached the maps under the security panels so she could remember what area the cameras focus on.

Each of the television panels connects to a DVR. Five remotes rest beneath the panels, one for each DVR. Richardson says she knows which remote controls which DVR.

It’s not all business, however.

On the walls are posted artwork by London graffiti artist Bansky.

The most eye catching is that of a little girl releasing a heart-shaped balloon. Over the scene are the words: “There is always hope.”

In addition to keeping an eye on Badger, Richardson also provides support to Ward at the middle school, if he needs it.

In separate letters to the Lake Geneva City Council, Bob Kopydlowski, Badger High School principal; Colin Nugent, Lake Geneva Middle School assistant principal; Drew Halbesma, Eastview Elementary School principal and Betsy Schroeder, principal at Central-Denison Elementary School, all extolled the virtues of the liaison officers.

The letters were included in the city council members’ packet for the Dec. 23 city council meeting.

Richardson is in her first year at the school. She replaces Ralph Braden, who was school liaison officer at Badger for nearly 20 years. Braden retired in July, but he still works at Badger in maintenance and as a crossing guard.

Kopydlowski said there was some concern over Braden’s leaving, but Richardson put those concerns to rest immediately.

“She is professional and devoted to her job,” Kopydlowski wrote of Richardson. “She has quickly gained the trust of our parents and most importantly, the students and staff who are in the building.”

Schroeder and Halbesma said that Ward is at their schools in the morning, during lunch, and during pickup in the evening, keeping an eye on traffic and connecting with the students on the playgrounds.

Schroeder said Ward also assists with home visits and truancy investigations.

Nugent at the middle school credits both Ward and Richardson with being “student-centered, dedicated and collaborative.”

Right now, the department is asking a six-year commitment of its liaison officers, Richardson said.

“Then they want us to go back to patrol so we don’t lose our touch,” she said.

At 11:06 a.m, Friday Richardson is out in front of Badger, standing between two long rows of buses, as students pour out of the school. Joining her is Jennifer Straus, Badger associate principal.

They talk about the cold, share a private joke and say goodbye to students who head to their assigned transportation.

Some students smile and say goodbye. Others are too intent about what they’ll do with their shortened school day.

A shortened school day does not mean a shortened work day for Richardson. She said she will finish paperwork and be available for the other Lake Geneva schools if she’s needed.

Asked how Richardson is working out, Straus responds: “Brilliant.”

Straus said Richardson and her predecessor, Ralph Braden, who retired in July, worked hard to make the transition smooth.

“They really did a good job of dovetailing,” Straus said.

Straus said there are few differences between Richardson and Braden in how they approach their work in the school.

“The common thread is the love of this part of their jobs,” Straus said. “They love the kids and they love being around them.

“And kids can sniff that out.”

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