Brownsburg School Resource Officers Connect With Students
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer / Amy Payne
The Brownsburg Community School Corporation (BCSC) has always been forward-thinking, which is why they have had a police presence in their schools since the late 1990s.
“They recognized how important it was to have people in the buildings, not just as armed officers but people building relationships with kids in the community,” says Ginnie Wing, BCSC chief of police. Having said that, officers’ involvement has evolved from the 1990s into what they are today as school resource officers (SROs). In the past, reserve officers came over to the schools and worked for the school district. In 2008, however, they established their own three-man department, and their presence has slowly grown over time to currently include five employed officers and two police K-9s. The growth has occurred based on student need and enrollment, which is now just under 10,000.
Wing, who has been in law enforcement since 1994, has been with the department the longest. A few years behind her is Kim Kiritschenko, a K-9 handler who joined 11 years ago. Her dog Zena is a narcotics detection canine, in her second year serving. Prior to Zena, Kiritschenko worked with Zeus. Also on the team is Sam Leahy, in his eighth year, and Corey Hill, a K-9 handler with a ballistics detection dog named Kya. Mike Gill was recently hired to round out the team.
“I’m proud of the longevity of our team,” says Wing, who helps in various capacities as needed. One job she does to keep herself plugged in regularly with students is directing traffic during dismissal.
“It’s not always the most fun job when it’s pouring down rain or 10 degrees below zero, but I need that student interaction,” Wing says. “I love connecting with them at the end of the day. By the end of the year, I know who is coming out when, and what car they drive.”
Because all of the schools are centrally located and all buildings sit within a mile and a half of one another, if there is an issue on a campus, whichever SRO is the closest will respond.
Officers are responsible for emergency management and preparedness, making sure staff members know what to do during a critical incident. Beyond the critical issues, they are also responsible for establishing safety and assisting with events like fire drills.
“I can’t imagine that when principals are in college, they’re thinking, ‘I sure hope I can learn to evacuate a building someday,’” Wing says. “This is what we are trained to do. Our job is to make an educator’s job easier.”
One of the most important reasons for SRO presence on campus, however, is to cultivate trust with students. Those relationships are unique to school policing. The majority of students return year after year, so by the time they reach high school, the SROs have built a solid foundation with them.
“They know they can come to us for things that are on their mind,” Wing says. “We’re there to support them because we’ve built that trust over time.”
This is important because kids have come to them to share concerning social media posts.
“They’ll tell us, ‘I think you need to know about this. Something might happen here at school,’” Wing says. “That’s the big payoff because when you’ve built that trust, students go to the right person who will take care of it.”
Wing and her colleagues appreciate these relationships that they develop.
“We get to know families over the course of all of their kids attending school,” she says. “If you’re like me and keep having kids, you’ll have them in school forever.”
Kiritschenko, whom the students refer to as Officer K, sees students every day because she’s there during the middle of passing periods – right in the thick of it. As a result, every student knows her and they remember her too. Recently, when Wing exited her police cruiser in a grocery store parking lot, a former student asked, “Do you know Officer K?”
Wing knew that she wanted to go into law enforcement ever since she was a little girl, though back then she had no clue that school policing was in her future. In 2004, when the town leaders wanted to place someone at the school in a more permanent capacity, Wing was eager to give it a try. Though the school didn’t have the legal authority to establish their own department until 2007, the three-year time period proved to be a trial of sorts.
“It was almost like trying it out as we determined if this worked, and whether or not it would be a good fit for the school community as a whole,” Wing says. “We also wanted to figure out if this was something that the town would benefit from long-term.”
Turns out, it was. The fact that it’s been a partnership between the town police department and the school corporation has only served to strengthen the bond between the two entities.
One thing that has helped the department become connected to the school community is the fact that each of the officers has children who have either attended or are currently attending Brownsburg schools. Between the five of them, they have 13 kids.
“Our investment in school safety is personal,” Wing says. “It’s not just someone else’s kids to us.”