It's a passion for tweens that's kept Dennis Laurance on the school beat for nine years.
"Being in the middle school working with the middle schoolers is just amazing," Laurance said. "I agreed to the position not really knowing what I was getting into and it only took a process of a month or two to realize how much I was going to love that job and love that age group. I work with high school SRO's and elementary school SRO's and hear their stories and I just think mine are cooler."
The Ada County Detective gave 6 On Your Side's Michelle Edmonds a tour of his stomping grounds at the new Star Middle School. Laurance says school safety all hinges on communication.
"Instead of having an office in the front office where I'm hidden and not really approachable to the kids... I'm right here in the hallway. I'm visible to the students," Laurance said. "There is nothing from stopping them from walking in and saying hi."
His formula for building relationships is simple.
"Being approachable, being present, being as quirky as they are," Laurance said. "They'll trust you."
It costs the West Ada District about $700,000 to contract with local law enforcement agencies to have a police presence in its schools. West Ada also spent another $400,000 this summer on various building upgrades and security systems. District leaders believe it's what the community wants.
"I think they are hoping we will do more for our kids and school safety, and I think even kids are even feeling that way," Eric Exline, a spokesman for the district, said. "They see the news they know what's happened in the world. Right? And hopefully what it does is kids come to school and think it's safer this year than it was last."
For Star Middle Schoolers, who have grown up in the post-columbine era, extra security measures like lockdown drills seem normal. Still, Laurance recommends parents talk with their kids daily about their life at school and encourage them to speak out if they ever feel uncomfortable.
"It's easier to educate children if they feel safe. As parents, you can talk to your kid about it's the adults' job to make sure you are safe. They are thinking about it. They are preparing for it. Just relax, go to school, be a kid," Laurance said.
By the end of this year, all West Ada schools will have what's called the "Raptor System" in place. The computer program scans a visitor's driver's license and then runs a full background check, including the sex offender registry.
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