Safe at school

LEWISTOWN – Everyday Lewistown Police Department School Resource Officer Chuck Miller reports to his office at the Mifflin County Middle School, and thinks about how he can improve the life of the young children in the school setting.

While Miller’s office is located in MCMS, he also works in Lewistown Elementary School and the Lewistown Intermediate School. His job was created through a Community Oriented Policing Services grant program, which allows funding to have officers assigned to patrol school buildings.

“The department applied for the grant, and it is funded 75 percent for the first three years from the federal government and 25 percent through the school district,” Miller said. “In the final year the borough will pay for the remaining balance.”

Miller said the ultimate goal of the grant is to make a difference in the life of a young person and to be a positive role model for them.

Prior to working in the schools, Miller worked as a police detective with kids after they had already been victims.

“There was a certain amount of stress in working with kids as victims,” Miller explained. “I wanted to become involved with them at an early age and be on the preventive side. That was why after a few years as a detective, I put in for the transfer.”

Before starting at the schools Miller underwent training through the National School Resource Officer Association. This helped him to become better at working with kids.

The grant was awarded to the department in late 2013, and Miller started in his new position on Jan. 2, which was the first day students were back in school after the holidays.

“It was a small shock for the kids when they saw me walking around in uniform that first day,” Miller said. “There were kids calling parents who work in the local police departments, asking them what was wrong and why I was there.”

Miller said he believes these kids are warming up to him, since they are seeing him on a daily basis. Miller also believes his easy-going personality helps him with working with the students and with the day-to-day situations. He said parents have been receptive toward his position and not only the work he has been doing with the students, but also the work he plans to do. The biggest part of his job is to be there for the students to talk to and help them to work through problems.

“I offer advice to them when it is needed,” Miller said. “I remember one time in a bullying case, I sat down with each student individually to get their side of the story. I then brought them together, talked to them and really got down to the root of the problem.”

Miller said the school continues to handle disciplinary actions, but he helps enforce the school policies. In addition to working with students, Miller performs security checks on the school doors to make sure they are locked and undamaged.

“Prior to leaving for my security checks or leaving to go to another school, I check in with the principal of that school,” he explained. “I do this for two reasons, one it lets them know what I am doing, and two it allows them to let me know if there is something that needs to happen before I do what I plan on doing.”

“I think it has been extremely helpful,” MCMS Vice-principal Heidi Welham said. “Officer Miller is able to communicate to students the consequences that will occur outside of the safety of the school and helps us to guide them in the right direction.”

Miller said he is able to help the kids understand why making the correct decision will help to guide them down the right path, whether that be in their school work or in their private lives. He and the school district have a common goal, to educate and help the students wherever possible. Miller said now that he has been at the schools for a few months he would like to be a larger part of the educational process.

“The training I went through at the NSROA helped hone the skills I already had,” Miller said. “In the past I have been a guest speaker at the South Hills Business School for the criminology department because of my background in criminal cases.”

Some of the classes he would like to teach include bullying, internet safety, alcohol safety, and other relevant topics at MCMS, LIS and LES.

“In the elementary school I am working on positive reinforcement,” he said. “One of my ideas for the middle school is to bring in the district attorney and have him explain the entire court system to the students from a legal standpoint.”

One of Miller’s objectives for all levels is to make law enforcement more tangible for kids. LES principal Mark Hidlay believes these programs are what will really make this program work in the elementary school.

“I think at the primary elementary level, we are very excited to have the presence of SRO Chuck Miller, mainly for the teachable moment as it pertains to law enforcement,” Hidlay said. “Areas we hope to involve him in more are peer relationships, and helping kids to understand how to get along with each other and explain the consequences down the road. One of the things I hope to tap into his expertise is school security and how we can help keep things in check.”

All of the district’s security measures work to keep the students safe, but there are always new technologies or ideas that help to increase security. Miller believes once he has more time to get to know the schools, he may be able to suggest some new ways to help increase security even more.

“The schools have great systems in place,” he said. “But like everything, as soon as one system is put into place a new better system is created.”

Miller said he really enjoys his job, and one of his favorite parts is simply working with the kids.

“When I first started and would go out during recess the kids would surround me asking me questions,” he said.

Now the kids still come up and ask him questions but Miller said the “novelty” of him being there has started to wear off. Some of the questions students ask him include those about his tool belt, and if he is the good guy or not. He said he also tries to visit the classrooms to wave to the kids and he believes it helps them to know that there is someone there when they feel like they would need it.

“All of these measures that I do while I walk around and go from school to school all goes back to wanting to help make law enforcement tangible,” he said. “If I can help one kid in each school, then it will follow them throughout their life and that makes it all worth it.”

LIS Principal Maidens agrees that preventive measures at the young age could help with issues that arise at the high school.

“I am looking forward to getting programs like online bullying, and other more preventive measures here will really help with problems at higher levels,” Maidens said. “Officer Miller has been here since January and the staff has gotten used to seeing his face in the building, and I think it will only continue to get better.”

The grant awarded which allows this program to happen has funded the program for three years, and Miller said he hopes this program continues in the future. He also believes that the program will continue to benefit the children at the younger levels like it has been helping at the high school level.