By Sue Moore
“You’re a pretty cool dude, although I haven’t been around police officers to know that much, but hey, that’s what I think about you.” That’s from a Vicksburg high school student’s evaluation sheet about Officer Mark Petersen, the school’s resource officer.
Other evaluation comments generally thanked Petersen for the work he does to keep order in the parking lots and hallways and his one-on-one talks with students. The comments were presented to the Vicksburg school board at its August meeting.
“Dear Officer Petersen,” Ashley Vader, 11th grade, wrote, “I think you have a great impact on our school. Your job is very important in the sense that you are here to keep us safe (of which I have yet to see you ever fail at doing). For me personally, I feel better knowing that you are in the building in case something does happen and you could easily call an ambulance. You also have helped control the drug use at this school and I feel you have culturally changed the school. On the other hand, giving students speeding tickets for going three mph over the speed limit in the parking lot is a bit much. Thank you for all your work, you do a really great job!J”
A few years back, when the village and schools were struggling to balance budgets, they were on the verge of discontinuing the resource officer’s job. The Vicksburg Foundation stepped in the breach with funding for the next year and more support afterward so the village and schools could continue the position.
At the meeting, Petersen reported on his purpose, goals, duties, benefits, accomplishments, and total stats for the year. “With the increased violence throughout the U.S., my goal is to work closer with not only the schools but with the local child care facilities in the area. I will also continue to work closer with student/staff safety, continue the assistance with ‘lock-down’ and security procedures.”
It was evident that the teachers appreciated his efforts too. Tim Callahan, government instructor in the high school wrote, “Mark’s effect on student success is as valuable as any teacher. He helps students survive difficult classes, peer pressure, depression and other problems that hurt their odds for success by making himself approachable and available. He is a good listener, giving all of his attention to what students say without interrupting them.”
Krista Ragotzy, art education teacher in the high school, said, “With the presence of Officer Petersen in our building and the relationships he has formed, I feel safer. I hope the position he holds in the schools continues as I believe it is in the best interest of the safety of our students, staff and community.”
Sunset Elementary School second grade teacher, Laura Chang, had this to say: “His presence at Sunset has been incredibly beneficial for students, teachers, and families. He can be seen on many mornings greeting students as they come into school, talking with parents and staff in the lobby before school starts, and patrolling the very congested morning parking lot. Safety is a real issue in elementary schools and Officer Petersen’s presence helps to keep our students safe and secure. Students are very comfortable with his familiar face as he pops into classrooms routinely throughout the day. He has worked hard to develop a trusting bond with my students that will yield payoffs in the future curing their potentially difficult teenage years.”
Petersen is especially commended for the work he does with special needs students. “Frequently he tracks the progress of At-Risk students and meets with individuals encouraging them to develop successful learning strategies, organizational skills and self-advocacy,” according to Callahan.
Petersen’s report showed 63 traffic stops, 13 citations, 50 verbal warnings, 23 criminal complaints, some misdemeanor complaints, 14 student counseling sessions, and 38 classroom presentations.
During the summer when school is not in session, Petersen has been working the streets, literally. He has made a point to stop in downtown businesses to chat with the owners and staff and generally show his presence in case there is a need. He says he has been thanked many times over by the business people. The village police force night crew has also made a special attempt to make sure the doors are locked and secure, according to Police Chief Eric West.
“It’s good to know our efforts are appreciated,” Petersen said. “We don’t always hear that.”