Safety and security team expands with retired police officers – School News Network

Wyoming – Moments after a Wyoming High School student posted a message about self-harm on a Google Doc connected to the district’s Internet system, a program called Gaggle alerted staff members.

Wyoming police intervened and within moments the child was found at his home and taken to the hospital.

The district had installed Gaggle on December 11, 2023.

“A month later it has already saved a life,” says Chief Inspector Craig Hoekstra.

Gaggle is an online safety management software that uses a combination of artificial intelligence and trained safety experts to help prevent student suicide, bullying, inappropriate behavior, school violence and other harmful situations.

The district implemented the software as part of extensive safety and security measures and initiatives, including increased staffing, including several retired Wyoming Police Department officers. Leading these efforts is Joe Steffes, safety and security coordinator, a position added last September.

Steffes, a retired Wyoming Police lieutenant, also created the district’s Emergency Operations Plan and directs related training. He updated evacuation maps; been involved in reunification training, updated lockdown procedures; purchased portable radios for staff; and backpacks containing medical supplies added to school resources.

‘My team (are) relationship builders; that’s what they do. They gain the trust of these children and the staff.’

— Joe Steffes, safety and security coordinator

As with the Gaggle incident, the close relationship with police is critical, Steffes said.

“My job here is to use some of my previous expertise in safety and security to guide the district through the times we are in,” said Steffes, whose office is at Wyoming High School.

More ‘Trusted Adults’ and support

Steffes and several other staff members form a network of highly skilled individuals who he says are ready to handle any situation that arises, and to serve as a support system for students. Steffes worked for the police for 29 years and held various positions. He oversees four new members of the security team, who are also former Wyoming police officers.

Joe Steffes, safety and security coordinator, is in charge of security-related initiatives

He also works closely with two school officers, Ben Mouch and Tony Jacobs, hired through the Wyoming Police Department. (The SROs have official arrest powers, which retired officers no longer have.)

A third layer of the team consists of student advocates, some of whom work from the school buildings and develop close relationships with students. Mike Moore, a student attorney at Wyoming Intermediate School, is also a retired police officer and SRO.

“My team (are) relationship builders; that’s what they do,” Steffes said. “They gain trust with these children and the staff.”

Bringing in retired officers as security personnel takes advantage of the district’s long-standing relationships with the police department, Hoekstra said. The SRO program has been in existence for many years.

Schools have been working for years to increase and standardize safety and security measures to address incidents of school violence and shootings across the country.

“In the current climate, we knew we had to do more,” said Hoekstra. “I’ve always felt like we have safe schools, but I don’t care what your zip code (is) or where in the country or the world you are, there will always be unexpected things that you have to deal with.”

Having Steffes lead a team of professionals fulfills the mission of providing a safe learning environment so students and teachers can focus on teaching and learning, Hoekstra said.

“Bringing Joe on board was nothing short of amazing. He is a highly skilled professional who works excellently with our staff, students, parents and community. His skills are important because adding elements of safety and security is a delicate process,” said Hoekstra.

“You can’t just add something to add to a certain area, but you have to do it with intention and purpose. It’s much more than simply adding elements of a certain thing; you have to take into account all the relevant variables.”

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