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School resource officers 'keep it real' with students in Portage and Baraboo as mentors, peacekeepers

School resource officers 'keep it real' with students in Portage and Baraboo as mentors, peacekeepers


Portage school resource officer Pete Warning says he wants students to see him not as a guy with a badge who drives fast, but as a mentor and peacekeeper.

Baraboo school resource officer Amanda Sabol wants to inspire girls and boys alike to pursue law enforcement careers while balancing positive contacts and holding students accountable for their actions.

“I’m making sure that nothing bad is happening to these kids,” Sabol said.

Both Warning, who started in his role Jan. 1, and Sabol, whose new job began Aug. 26, said a primary focus during their first full calendar school years is to plan ahead in the event of an active shooting.

Safety preparations

During a Thursday demonstration in Jessica Howe’s gym class at Portage High School, Warning showed a group of teens how to apply a tourniquet to stop someone from bleeding.

Warning told the students he is responsible for patrolling and helping safeguard seven schools in the district. He added Portage police officers keep about five tourniquets in their squad cars in case of critical incidents.

“You’re thinking about what could happen at your school. You should be thinking that way,” Warning said. “I’m gonna keep it real with you, keep it 100. Sorry it’s a heavy conversation, but I want you to be prepared.”

As his peers looked on, Portage High School senior Colton Brandsma, 17, cranked the tourniquet until it was secure.

He asked Warning, “Can I keep it?”

“Maybe it’ll be your graduation gift someday,” Warning said.

Sabol said she sometimes stands watch outside Jack Young Middle School in Baraboo when students are at recess.

She’s always watching for suspicious activity and running through emergency response scenarios in her mind to protect about 700 children.

Role models

Baraboo Police Capt. Rob Sinden said the Baraboo Police Department funds its two school resource officer positions from its budget.

Sinden said Sabol and fellow school resource officer Mike Pichler are among the busiest police officers in the department, between counseling youths and investigating incidents.

“We work very closely with the schools, and we have for years,” Sinden said, adding school resource officers are critical to their communities. “They are our link with the schools.”

In Portage, the police department funds 33% of the single school resource officer role, while the Portage Community School District foots roughly 67% of the bill, Portage Police Chief Ken Manthey said.

Since Warning started in his new role earlier this year, he’s been positively received by students, teachers and school officials, Manthey said.

He credited Warning for consistently speaking to students with respect, compassion and maturity, which solidifies positive contact between local police and the Portage Community School District.

“I’m very confident that with the relationships that Pete is building with these students that if they do hear something, they will report it to him,” Manthey said.

Developing trust

Sabol said she sometimes consults her teenage brother to understand why certain trends are cool and why youths are drawn to certain things such as vaping.

Both Sabol and Warning said they aim to address the risks of drugs and vaping this academic year.

Sabol said the Baraboo School District is placing new signs advising all staff, visitors and students that vaping is not allowed. She added that school nurses hold onto all prescription medications to avoid drugs being in students’ possession.

Warning said he often gives classroom lessons for students about the dangers of alcohol or drug-impaired driving and drugs in general. He also teaches students about their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights as U.S. citizens.

Bullying and fights always are issues that need to be resolved, but Warning said he aims to chat with students during passing times between classes to establish positive contact with police.

By doing so, Warning said a mutual trust forms and reminds students they can come to him for advice or safety tips.

Raised by a single mother in Milwaukee, Sabol said she was aware of people from all walks of life and became inspired to pursue law enforcement after a female police officer visited her school. Sabol said she wants to inspire other girls herself.

“You don’t necessarily have to be a product of your environment,” Sabol said. “I wanted to be one of those people (students) could come to and help them.”

Sabol also served the Baraboo Police Department for 10 years on night shift patrol. This gave her an unfettered look at how domestic abuse or living in drug addicted environments can affect children.

Overall, Sabol said her job as a school resource officer is centered on being a mentor to students to help them avoid making mistakes as adults.

This article was updated to clarify how the Portage school resource officer position is funded.

Follow Brad on Twitter @BradMikeAllen or call him at 608-745-3510.

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