Ralph Brown was ready for a new challenge, and the Galva School District was ready to take a significant step to help ensure the safety of its students.

Ralph Brown was ready for a new challenge, and the Galva School District was ready to take a significant step to help ensure the safety of its students.

The intersection of new challenge and opportunity led to Brown, an officer with the Galva Police Department, being hired as the district’s first-ever school resource officer prior to the start of the 2018-19 school year.

“I’m not here because there’s crime in the school,” Brown said during an interview in his office at the Galva Junior-Senior High.

“At the beginning of the school year, I went around and talked to every class at both buildings and explained to them that I’m not here to arrest you, I’m here to protect you,” Brown said. “My job is more on the security side of things than the enforcement side of things.”

Brown brings an extensive law enforcement background to the school resource officer position. He started as a dispatcher at the age of 19 for the Illinois State Police and Galesburg/Knox County 9-1-1 center. He’s also worked as a jailer, court security and civil process with the Knox County Sheriff’s office, and handled part-time shifts as an officer in Williamsfield, East Galesburg and Abingdon during his time with the sheriff’s department.

He departed law enforcement briefly, but returned in 2008 as a full-time officer in Abingdon and then accepted a job with the Galva Police Department in 2011.

 

From skepticism to acceptance

Galva Police Chief Kraig Townsend approached Brown about the school district’s consideration of employing a school resource officer (SRO), and asked if he’d be interested.

“I was ready for a different challenge — something new, something different,” Brown said.

His first challenge was learning the names of the students — “I’ve done a lot better with it than I expected,” Brown said, and the next challenge was getting the students to understand his role in the school district.

“I was skeptical of it in the beginning here at the junior-senior high school,” Brown said of how students would view him. “The grade school kids love me. I can’t walk out of that building without getting at least a dozen hugs. They are very open and receptive to me.”

Brown admitted there was apprehension about him from the older students, but he started to mingle with them at lunch, talk to them in the halls and sit in on classes and join discussions, and they began to understand and accept his presence.

“Once they kind of got to know who this guy was, it’s really been outstanding. The junior high especially — those kids are a lot of fun,” Brown said.

“The kids absolutely love him,” Galva Elementary School Principal Mary Kelly said of Brown.

“When he first started, he got to know the kids and their families,” Kelly added, noting she’s valued his assistance in truancy matters and providing an outside opinion on some building procedures.

Kelly said Brown has assessed the elementary school’s drills, signage and safety protocol.

“He’s brought an outside view to what some of our needs are, and that’s been helpful,” Kelly said.

And the students love being on the receiving end of the sticker badges he hands out for good deeds or accomplishments.

“You would think he’s been here for years,” Kelly said.

 

No such thing as typical day

Brown’s duties are spread between the junior-senior high and elementary buildings. He has the freedom to start his work day at either building.

“They don’t want anything to be routine or normal,” Brown said. “That way if somebody does have some type of evil intent, there’s not a schedule they can make their plan based on.”

“I just go around and greet the kids and be observant of what’s going on,” Brown added. “Inevitably throughout the day, something pops up that needs attention.”

Brown is prominently involved in the district’s security drills, and serves as a liaison between the district and police department. 

“We share a lot of information and that helps fill in some of the blanks on both sides,” Brown said.

He said district teachers and administrators know what goes on with students during the school day, but his presence helps make them aware of the challenges students might be facing outside the school setting.

“There’s quite a few children where the school is the most positive place they can be,” Brown said.

The public will notice Brown’s presence at many district athletic events, and he recently led a parent meeting sponsored by the district’s Cats Commitment program that presented information on drug identification and awareness.

 

It’s all about security

Shortly after taking the school resource officer job, Brown was asked by a district resident if things were bad enough at the Galva schools that an officer was needed on a full-time basis.

He assured the questioner that the SRO job was more about security than law enforcement issues. 

“I don’t know what the actual thing was that led District 224 to talk about it, but I know it all culminated about the time there was an incident (school shooting) up in Dixon,” Brown said.

“All the kids here are great kids. We don’t have that type of trouble. We haven’t had one fight to speak of this year,” he added.

The district also contacted the Galva Police Department about providing a presence at the 2018 GHS graduate ceremony, and two officers were on duty for the district’s 143rd commencement.

“We’re not here for what happens, but for what could happen,” Brown said, adding the district teachers and administrators have a “very true and sincere interest in the welfare of the students.”

When the school year concludes, Brown will return to patrol duties with the department in the summer. He also serves as the evidence custodian for the department, and assists with paperwork on junk vehicles.

Brown said his SRO job has “been a good experience. I hope it continues. It’s been a positive thing.”

“As long as this program is in existence, the kids from the grade school will get older and move over into this building (junior-senior high), and my relationships with them will be even stronger,” he added. “I really enjoy it and I’m happy to be here.”