CLINTON, Ill. (WAND) - The Clinton Unit School District and the Clinton Police Department work closely to ensure student and staff safety.
School Resource Officer Mike Bennett, a member of the Clinton Police Department, work together to create and maintain a safe learning environment. Chief Ben Lowers said one of the main duties of the resource officer in the district is to work with school leaders and staff.
"His primary job is the safety of this building and the safety of our entire district," explained Chief Lowers. "He is very tactically minded and he is one of two in our departments who is a firearm tactical instructor."
Officer Bennett and Clinton High School Principal Jerry Wayne work closely together. Wayne said, Bennett is not only the school resource officer, but he also teaches drivers education and the high school self-awareness program.
"He is an integral part of our building and our culture we create. Yes, he's a police officer, but he's so much more than that to everyone in the building," said Wayne.
During any school day you can find Officer Bennett walking the halls of a Clinton Unit School building. Chief Lowers explained five to six years ago as a department made a plan to become more community oriented, which started in the schools. Now, the Clinton Police Department plays an intricate role in school's safety and student law enforcement relationships, all with the help of a school resource officer.
"It is important for kids to see us not only in an authority form, but also as a person," explained Chief Lowers. "We want them to understand we are one of them. We want them to see us as a someone they can come to for support."
Officer Bennett uses is role as the school resource officer to make a connection with students. He explained he got the role after he spent time on a juvenile junior detective assignment.
"One of things that has surprised me the most about this particular assignment is some of the things kids will tell you once you gain their trust," said Bennett, who is serving his fourth year as the SRO.
With over 1,200 students and 6 buildings to keep up with, Officer Bennett said he makes an effort to make it to each building a day. Principal Jerry Wayne explained he's had numerous students come up to him asking to speak or see Officer Bennett.
"We've had several kids who have come in and are just having a difficult time, and we think oh they will reach out to a guidance counselor or they will reach out to a teacher, but they don't. They seek him out," said Wayne.
Officer Bennett and Chief Lowers said they are working non-stop to build a strong law enforcement, youth relationship. Chief Lowers explained the law enforcement climate in the United States hasn't been the greatest, but said school resource officers in districts all over work had to create a positive relationship with kids.
"We want people to see what happens on a daily basis. It's just here in Clinton, Illinois. It is nationwide, large cities and small towns, what we do here in Clinton is happening everyday across the country," said Chief Lowers.
Along with teaching and patrolling, one way Officer Bennett connects with students is through a hand-shake and a good morning. During passing periods, lunch or at random times students at Clinton High School will walk up to Officer Bennett and do their signature handshake.
Principal Wayne said, "He probably has 20 or 30, maybe even more than that, with kids that have some sort of a fist-bump or handshake. I look at him and I go I don't know how you remember all of them."
According to Officer Bennett, the handshakes started about four years ago. He said just a simple gesture like that can make a difference in each student he interacts with.
"It's just one of those connections," explained Officer Bennett. "You never know what impact you are going to have on someone and sometimes it's just a word or just a simple good morning."
Principal Wayne spoke highly of Officer Bennett, he explained those connections he sees school resource officers making will make a huge impact on student lives.
"It is important that kids see that even though they have badge, they are still a human. They are still an individual who got into that profession because they want to make a difference in a kid's life," said Wayne. "The more they see that positivity and the more connections they make, the more they will realize each interaction they have with a police officer doesn't have to be a negative connotation."
Going beyond his badge to make a safe and loving environment inside and outside school walls.
"You know Officer Bennett's got 1,200 kids and they are all right here in the Clinton School District." said Chief Lowers. "He's not just a figure in the school, he is apart of the school and he lives and breathes Clinton School District."