Protecting the students in Hill City

By Gray Hughes


In today’s world the role of a school resource officer, also known as an SRO, is more important than ever.

However, an SRO is more than an armed police officer in a school, said John Marcus Isakson, Pennington County Sheriff’s Office deputy and the SRO for Hill City schools.

“We are here to build a positive relationship with the students and create a good environment for them,” he said.

Isakson began his duties as an SRO at the end of last year. Previous to that, he had patrolled Hill City as a part of the sheriff’s office for three years. He said he has always had a passion for helping out kids, which is part of the reason why he was attracted to the SRO position.

He is there when the majority of the students are present at the school — from 7:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. — and also during school events such as sporting events, dances, school board meetings and concerts.

To do all of this, though, Isakson said he needs to build relationships with the students.

During the school day, Isakson not only patrols the halls and grounds of the schools in Hill City, he also talks with students, getting to know them personally.

“I’m not here to arrest kids,” he said. “I am here to work with juveniles to resolve issues.”

Correcting poor behavior from teenagers will help them overcome those issues, he said, and will help them become contributing members of society.

Treating the students with respect, being a positive influence in their lives and showing that he actually cares about the students personally is how he establishes those relationships.

“I take a lot of time and energy to do this,” he said. “But it is rewarding to see them learn from their mistakes.”

Doing all of this, he said, establishes a positive learning environment, which is the overall goal of the SRO.

Isakson also establishes himself as a resource to the greater school community, fielding calls from parents when they have questions or concerns. But in order to do all of this, Isakson and other SROs in Pennington County need to undergo days of training.

SROs appointed through the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office need to be certified as a law enforcement officer.

In order to be a law enforcement officer in South Dakota, they need to under go physical testing, psychological testing and firearms training and testing, among other tests and training including going to training in Pierre in order to be taught strategies that all law enforcement officers in South Dakota need.

Now, he undergoes 10 hours of training a month for responding to a crisis along with 40 hours of intensive training a year specific to SROs.

In addition to the training that he undergoes, Isakson instructs the faculty and staff of Hill City schools on how to be safe in school.

The district uses the ALICE method, which stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate.

“This method in the event of a threat to a school is much more effective than what was done before when they sheltered in place,” he said.

He also does training with students on what to do if there is a threat in the school.

But, overall, while an SRO is in the school to keep students safe, Isakson said he is there to create and build positive relationships with students to encourage a positive learning environment.

“We are looking to be a resource to the community,” he said.