By David Nordby
The Brillion News
Aug. 27, 2020
BRILLION – Brillion Police Officer Ben Bastian would be in his 13th school year as a school resource officer (SRO) for the Brillion School District.
Bastian’s role with the district for the 2020-2021 remains unclear, as no contract is currently in place and the Brillion School Board says it is reviewing all options.
The school board categorized Bastian’s position as a Police School Liaison Officer (PSLO) on its agenda when it discussed the position at last week’s meeting, but Bastian says the term more commonly used is a school resource officer (SRO).
“That kind of sums it up a little bit better because I am that resource. It’s a resource of so many different things,” Bastian said. “It’s building relationships with the kids and that’s one of the main goals of being an SRO … so when those kids have crises, they have a familiar face to go to during their traumatic experiences or traumatic situations,” Bastian added.
Bastian is the president of the Wisconsin Juvenile Officers Association (WJOA), which adds experience to the role in the school, he says.
“It’s pretty cool to do. (Chief) Kirk (Schend) is on the board as well. We’re pretty passionate about that kind of stuff because we see it with the kids that are here at school,” Bastian said.
Bastian has been available for students in his office on Mondays and Tuesdays, the two full days a week he is at school.
Over the past decade, he has assisted with non-criminal things like conflicts between students to much more serious issues with students like sexual assault cases.
“I’ve had cases where I’m sitting in my office and kids come in and I find out about a child abuse case then I pull the kid from the home to keep them safe. Would they have reported it if I wasn’t in the office? I don’t think they would have. It’s building that trust and rapport with the kids in those conversations and learning what’s going on in their lives,” Bastian said.
Bastian says he aims to be a mentor for the students who seek advice from him.
“I tell kids all the time, if you’re frustrated and need a place to go, kick, scream, yell, whatever, that’s what my office is for. I’d rather have them come do that than get themselves kicked out or detention or anything like that,” Bastian said.
Bastian said he works with staff and teachers to help students who need help with mental health into the correct programs.
“My goal is to not be punitive,” Bastian said.
Beyond the students, Bastian has worked with the Department of Homeland Security to develop recommendations and safety plans for the school. He teaches and offers review of lockdown procedures. Outside of school, Bastian attends some sporting events, dances, middle school incentivized fun events, lock-ins and coordinates Shop with a Cop.
“It’s a lot of different moving parts than just sitting in behind a desk or writing a ticket,” Bastian said.
While Bastian has had to arrest students or write tickets, he says that is not the goal. “I offer what’s called a deferred prosecution,” Bastian said.
When Bastian writes a deferred prosecution, students see their tickets dropped with good behavior over a certain amount of time.
“The goal for me is not to sit and give punitive damages to the kids. It’s to show that they made a mistake, they need to make it right, if they make it right they can have that ticket dropped,” Bastian said.
Bastian says his goal is to not make money for the courts, or be in the building to wait for kids to get in trouble. He says he feels that other officers around the United States have damaged the reputation of SROs with such behavior.
“I advocate to not do that at all costs. Have I had to arrest some kids throughout the years? Yes, but that’s not my ultimate goal or the end result that I’m looking for,” Bastian said.
“It’s about really bringing that fun, safe environment at school,” Bastian added.
When the school board discussed the SRO position last week, it was questioned why Bastian does not go outside of the City of Brillion’s limits for truancy visits, even if the students are in the school district’s limits.
Bastian says that he does go outside of city limits.
“It doesn’t matter where they live. The violation is with the school, so that’s where I have to deal with that,” Bastian said.
Bastian says he has previously visited residences with principals in Forest Junction, Wayside, Reedsville and Potter. He says county officials have been called if the issue is deeper than truancy, such as child welfare.
“The goal there is to find out why are they truant, what is the main reason behind the truancy and how do we come to common ground to get that child to get to school because we know the more school they miss the more they get behind and the more academic issues they have,” Bastian said.
This school year, truancy could be less strictly enforced than previous years because of health and safety concerns for students who will have stay-at-home learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Please see the complete story in the Aug. 27, 2020 edition of The Brillion News.