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Patriot Day at Lux Middle School, 9.11.18

Lincoln Police Department Capt. Mike Woolman (left) talks with Lux Middle School sixth-grader Camden Dean during lunch in September. Six police officers will start duties in Lincoln middle schools next week.

Six police officers will begin their duties as middle school resource officers next week, a major initiative of the interlocal agreement between the city and Lincoln Public Schools to improve school safety that will get underway about two months ahead of schedule.

Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister told the interlocal board Thursday morning that the officers will start next Thursday because the incoming recruiting class will be able to fill the reassigned officers' current jobs.

Often, recruits need to fill in temporarily for other officers who are injured or gone for other reasons, he said, but it turns out there’s enough new recruits available to temporarily assume the duties left by those who will now be assigned to the 12 LPS middle schools.

They were previously slated to start in January.

This summer all the officers received 40 hours of training through the National Association of School Resource Officers. It included eight hours specifically on “policing the teen brain,” which focuses on how the teenage brain functions and other factors specific to dealing with teenagers.

They got additional training along with school administrators on how to delineate between school discipline matters that should be handled by administrators and criminal actions that should be handled by officers, Bliemeister said.

In December they’ll get an additional eight hours of training on behavioral health of juveniles. In the summer of 2019 they will attend training by Strategies for Youth, a Massachusetts-based organization, designed to help improve interactions between young people and police.

Bliemeister said school resource officers, which have been assigned to LPS high schools for years, have received training, but the training offered now is more formal and intentional. The high school officers also went through the new training.

Concerns about school safety after the shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February led to the interlocal agreement in Lincoln that will, among other things, pay for the six new SROs — something proponents advocated for as a way to help protect students.

But opponents argued officers in schools could result in more kids being funneled into the justice system, especially marginalized and minority students. That led to a memorandum of understanding between the city and school district, which requires city and school officials to create an evaluation process of the SRO program.

Each officer will be assigned to two middle schools, and while the division of their time will be based on the needs of each school, they’ll try to split their time evenly, Bliemeister said.

Kathy Danek, one of the school board members on the interlocal board, said it was important to introduce students to the officers assigned to their schools so they know why those officers are around more.

“It’s really important to make sure kids see this as a positive,” she said.

One of the primary focuses of the middle school SROs will be to develop relationships with students, and officers have been working with curriculum specialists to find ways they can supplement existing lessons.

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An example: last year officers showed a middle school math class how to measure skid marks to figure the speed of a car.

The middle school officers assigned include:

Culler and Lefler: Officer Jon Rennerfeldt, who has been in law enforcement since 2002 and has been on the LPD crime scene unit, accident reconstruction team and is a drug recognition expert.

Goodrich and Schoo: Officer Rick Roh, who has been with LPD since 2003 working the night shift as well as serving as a field training officer, an internal resource officer, a firearms instructor, a defensive tactics instructor and is a member of the field force designed to respond to riots.

Irving and Pound: Officer Andrew Nichols, who has worked as a street officer since 2004.

Lux and Moore: Officer Al Pickering, who has been a Lincoln police officer since 2001 and is a member of the field force team.

Park and Scott: Officer Kathryn Meade, who has a degree in secondary education and been a Lincoln Police Officer since 2014, working on various geographic teams in the city.

Dawes and Mickle: Officer Riley Ference, who has been with LPD since 2013.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist.

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Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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