CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) – They patrol the hallways, the football games and even the school dances. And should there ever be a shooting, like at Sandy Hook Elementary, they would be the first police officers on scene. The school resource officers or SRO are there to protect your schools, but more importantly, your kids.
Over at Chippewa Falls Senior High School, Officer Lee Hakes, also with the Chippewa Falls Police Department, is seen as more than just a school resource officer. In fact, to students at Chi-Hi, he’s a friend, an advisor and someone they know and trust.
"It makes me feel more reassured that someone is going to be here and will keep us safe and is trained,” says freshman Tyana Loiselle.
Others enjoy the comfort of his humor.
"You can joke with him and he will joke right back,” Alissa Adams, senior at Chi-Hi.
But aside from the laughs, Officer Hakes is there to keep your kids safe.
And looking back at the shootings in Connecticut, he calls it a tragedy.
“As a parent I can’t imagine. It’s sickening to me what happened with 20 children being killed. It’s just disheartening and it was really tragic and sad,” says Hakes, a father of three.
“Just the presence, the students know there’s a police officer at the school every day, every hour and I think they feel safer knowing that,” says Hakes. “Plus it really accelerates the response time. If there were to be an incident where someone was to come into the building that was not wanted, the officer’s response time is right now.
Hakes noted how close his office at the senior high is to the elementary and middle school.
And in the situation of an armed intruder, Officer Hakes and the Chippewa Falls School District have a plan.
“We have procedures in place where the building would be put into a secure status which means all the doors would be locked, the children would be moved into an area of the room where they’re less likely to be seen by a bad guy and no one is released from the scene or until the school is deemed safe,” says Hakes.
He says after the building is in lockdown, he would notify the Chippewa Falls Police Department that he needs assistance. He’d then go to where the threat is at and try to take care of the situation as quickly as possible.
“I’m not going to sit here and wait for two to three officers to show up and then go in as a group. It’s my responsibility to protect the children and staff of this community and I’m going to be the first one there to go and do that,” says Hakes.
Hakes says there are also monthly safety committee meetings where the group meets to talk about everything from “slips, trips and falls” to building security.
“That helps a lot with our planning and getting different ideas as far as coming up with better, more efficient procedures,” he says.
The Chippewa Falls School District has had a school resource officer for 13 years, says Hakes. His position can travel from the high school to middle and elementary school at any point needed. There are also other safety features that he says helps keep the school safe.
“There are cameras in parking lots and entry ways and different areas of the school,” says Hakes, adding there were also automated locked doors and a check-in system.
Although tragedy can’t always be prevented, Hakes says Chippewa Falls is 100 percent prepared for it, especially with the active shooter simulations.
“We actually got student volunteers to come into a classroom and create the sense of urgency, that emergency type of atmosphere where it’s close as you can get to the real thing without it being the real thing,” says Hakes.
Every year, at least twice a year, he says the entire Chippewa Falls Police Department will take part in the simulation for training. That’s why they know the schools’ blueprint inside and out.
“I’m more than willing to do anything to protect the staff and students of the Chippewa Falls School District. They trusted me to be the police officer for the school district and I will do whatever it takes to protect their children,” says Hakes, even if it means risking his own life.
“That’s what I’m here for. To make sure kids go home at the end of the day.”