Mayor Brett Frazier said he proposed the Safe School Initiative during his campaign to help make the schools safer for students.
“Safe schools have been a passion of mine for a long time. The city of Milton’s population has swelled over the past few years. It’s our job to make the city as safe as possible,” Frazier said. “We had a school resource officer at the middle school and the high school, but we wanted a police presence in all the schools. They help with procedures, and they work closely with students and staff. I’m excited that everyone is on the same page with the program. It’s an idea that has been embraced by so many people. That’s what I like about the city of Milton. Everybody is interested in keeping the community safe.”
Superintendent Tim Schigur said the program helps the students become more familiar with a police officer and makes them more likely to approach an officer when there is an emergency situation.
“(The officers) stop by and make regular visits whenever they can,” Schigur said. “For an elementary school kid, getting to know the police is a positive thing, so they don’t look at them as a consequence or something to be feared but as someone who is a resource to them.
“If a student feels good about approaching a police officer, they do so if they’re out in the community. If they’re at a park or if they’re out on the street and they come across an uncomfortable situation, they’re more likely to report it. That’s the goal of the program, for the police to be a proactive source and not a reactive source, and I think that’s awesome.”
Police Chief Dan Layber said the program helps students learn more about police officers’ responsibilities and the role they play in the community.
“We have put together a show-and-tell book for the younger students that we’re going to be using for the grade schoolers to let them know what the police do, what the 911 dispatchers do and how to interact with their fellow students and other members of the community,” Layber said.
The police officers also talk to students about current events.
“The officers bring a different perspective to societal issues that a teacher or parent may not see. So, the idea is to educate kids and build relationships and they bring in a different perspective, which is good,” Schigur said. “The book (the police department) has created is a great way for the officers to break the ice and talk about things that are meaningful and relevant to that age group.
“It’s not just about the police coming in and having a presence. It’s about, ‘Let’s interact at an age-appropriate level.’”
Jennifer Cramer, principal for Milton East Elementary School, said the police officers reinforce some of the things students already are learning in the classroom.
“We talk to the students about some of the things we do to keep them safe,” Cramer said. “When the police officer comes and talks to the students, it reminds them of the same message.”
Police Lt. John Conger said the program also has allowed the police department to continue its anti-bullying campaign, which started last year.
“We have put up signs around the community and in school zones about the anti-bullying campaign,” Conger said. “We’ve handed out T-shirts and bracelets with anti-bullying messages. We’ve also held after-school events. The idea is to get the message out about bullying and identifying it. We want to work with teachers, parents and residents about combating it.”
Schigur said students and teachers seem to enjoy having a police officer visiting their school.
“They’re very appreciative, knowing that the police are an important part of the community and the school community,” Schigur said. “It’s good to have their presence in the buildings. The more the police are seen as a resource instead of being there when something bad or negative happens, it just builds the relationships within the community that much more. The staff and the students really embrace having the officers in the buildings.”
The program benefits the police officers as well. Layber said he enjoys having the opportunity to meet with students.
“It’s a lot of fun. I enjoy the interaction because, oftentimes, kids view the police as a negative and when you get in the classroom, you can joke around with them, put them at ease and let them know we’re people, too, and that we’re there to help them, not to catch them doing something wrong. It’s a real positive,” Layber said. “We try to use humor as much as possible to get in their better graces, and I think the kids really appreciate that.”
Conger said teachers and principals have reported that less bullying has occurred at their schools during the past year.
“The students are very open. It’s fun to go into the schools and talk to the students,” Conger said.
The police department also offers the Lunch with a Cop program, in which an officer meets with the students for lunch at a local business to discuss different issues. Any business that is interested in hosting a Lunch with a Cop outing can contact Conger at (608) 868-6910.
“We usually have pizza or sub sandwiches,” he said. “It’s a good way to talk about our anti-bullying message.”
Frazier said he hopes the Safe School Initiative will continue.
“School safety is becoming a bigger necessity,” Frazier said. “From the city’s perspective, we want to continue to work with the school district to improve safety procedures we already have in place.
“We want to make sure the schools are as safe and secure as they can be.”