City of Monroe Police Officer Brian "Winnie" Winsjansen feels like it was almost inevitable that he'd end up working with children.
The 2020 City of Monroe Police Officer of the Year comes from a long line of educators. His mother and grandmother were both longtime special education teachers in Flat Rock, his grandfather is a former principal at Royal Oak Schools, and he has several aunts and uncles who are currently teachers down in Tennessee.
Winsjansen himself has been a substitute teacher, and he's coached varsity football and junior varsity baseball. Six years ago, when there was an opportunity for him to jump from the city's road patrol unit into the position of a school resource officer with Monroe Public Schools, he jumped at the opportunity.
"In my life, I definitely was kind of preparing for this role unknowingly the entire time," he said. "I've always known I wanted to work with kids in some capacity... This is exactly where I want to be."
Formerly known as liaison officers, SROs have been thrust into the spotlight this week after a school shooting at Oxford High School north of Detroit left four people dead and seven injured. Preliminary reports indicate that the SRO -- an Oakland County sheriff's deputy -- inside the school helped disarm the shooter and prevent further tragedy.
"It goes to show that we need more school resource officers," said Monroe County Sheriff Troy Goodnough. "Student resource officers are not only important during time of emergencies, they're a resource to students. They build positive relationships."
Dundee Community Schools Supt. Edward Manuszak said the district used to have two SROs but went down to one due to budget cuts. He said the district had had a liaison officer for the 6 years he’s been superintendent. He said he never attempted to cut the position and never will.
“It’s just something that, unfortunately, with the current situation that everyone is in, we agree that this is something that needs to be present,” Manuszak said. “I’m very proud of the fact that our district was able to maintain our school resource officer and we’re just trying to be as proactive as we can be with everything that we’re dealing with on a daily basis."
In Monroe County, most but not all districts have an SRO. Winsjansen is primarily located at Monroe Middle School, which is located within the City of Monroe, but he travels to other schools in the city and/or the rest of Monroe Public Schools as needed. Because several of its buildings are outside the city limits, MPS also partners with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office on a second SRO who operates out of its high school.
"All of our students know the the SROs," said Monroe Supt. Dr. Julie Everly. "As we talk to our students, as you watch our SROs walk through the halls of our schools, it is extremely obvious what an integral part of our school community that they have become."
Winsjansen says a major part of his role as an SRO is about building relationships with the students under his watch. To that end, he attends nearly all of the district's sporting events, band and choir concerts and other extracurricular activities.
"(I want) the kids to see support from different members of the community, not just coming from their parents," he said. "That's another big piece of building relationships with kids is making sure they know they're supported. With that then comes a little bit of reassurance, so they feel a little bit safer coming to school every day, hopefully.
"That's my goal, is that they feel a little safer coming to school every day knowing that I'm here."
All districts in the region, with the exception of Ida and Jefferson, have SROs. Some are sheriff's deputies, while others are members of the local municipal police departments.
Goodnough said he strongly supports the idea of having school resource officers in school buildings. He also said he was not surprised at the actions of the Oxford SRO.
Goodnough said he is supporting a proposed bill in the state legislature that would pump $20 million into Michigan's school resource program. He understands money can be a deterrent for districts to have an SRO, so the proposed money would help beef up local law enforcement presence in school buildings.
Heidi Galati, Jefferson Schools Interim Superintendent, said she would like to re-implement the program. The district has not had an SRO since 2012.
“We do not (have an SRO) at this time; we are hopeful to get one back soon,” she said. "It's been a few years since they have had one. I’ve only been here a couple months but since I’ve been here there's been much talk about trying to get that back.”
There has been discussion among administrators and board members but nothing has been voted on yet.
“There has been discussion about how we move forward with it so we’re hopeful that that position will be back soon here at Jefferson because we know it is helpful and it is a need for the school," Galati said. “We are actively working on getting a liaison officer.”
The district has had safety protocols and active shooter drills in place for years, but officials sent out a refresher to staff students and families.
“I told my staff, I hope they never have to use these protocols but we have to be prepared,” Galati said.
Like Monroe, Bedford Public Schools also has two resource officers.
Both of Bedford's SROs are deputies with the sheriff's office. The district went down to one SRO several years ago as a cost-cutting measure, but it entered into a three-way partnership with Bedford Township and the sheriff's office to bring back a second one shortly after Supt. Dr. Carl Shultz was hired back in January 2018.
"Obviously they go wherever they're needed," Shultz said of the two deputies. "But (typically) we have one split their time between the high school and junior high, since (those buildings) are on the same campus, and then another deputy splits their time between the other three buildings (the elementary schools)..."
Shultz said there were a variety of reasons why he prioritized bringing back a second SRO when he assumed his position with BPS.
"I think they create a strong presence of additional safety for students and parents," he said. "I also believe having an (SRO) in the buildings each day, every day, can also lead to being preventative. A (SRO) builds relationships with the kids and staff members, so they can go right to the officer or deputy and have a conversation and really head things off..."
At Summerfield Schools, Superintendent Scott Salow said he is grateful to have his deputy, Jeff Corie, on hand. When Salow heard about the shooting only 100 miles to the north, it bolstered his belief in the SRO program.
"You can't pay someone enough just for that peace of mind," Salow said. "We're very, very fortunate for a small school district to have Jeff with us. Having someone like him, with his level of experience, adds a level of protection."
Milan Area Schools Supt. Bryan Girbach said the district has a full-time resource officer assigned from the Milan Police Department who engages with students every day and works whenever the district is in session.
"He's visible at all of our buildings every day and responds to the administrator's needs," Girbach said. "He works with principals and assistant principals and teaches a class on student safety and making positive decisions with fifth graders at Symons Elementary School. The course is taught more toward the end of the school year."
The district has about 2,000 students in K-12, with about 600 of those at the high school.
Huron Schools Supt. Donovan Rowe said the district employs an SRO who is an active member of the Huron Township Police Department.
The officer “has an office located in our high school, and he provides services throughout the entire district. In addition, we have a great working relationship with the Huron Township Police Department. They are active members of our discussions on school safety, and our police chief is actively engaged in our school safety planning efforts. We work together to engage in training for officers, staff and students related to school safety issues. I think the school resource officer provides us with a wonderful service to our students, community and staff. In addition, the resource officer helps to provide a strong link between the school district and the local police department.
"You know that one of our primary goals at Huron is to provide a safe and purposeful learning environment for our students and staff. I feel strongly that our school resource officer is an important part in that process.”
Huron Schools has about 860 students at the high school and about 2,500 students in the district.
Mason Consolidated Schools partners with Erie Township and the sheriff's office to fund a SRO for its buildings. Supt. Kelli Tuller said this partnership "allows us to employ a school resource officer to assist with training, monitoring, and responding to situations that pose a safety risk to those on our campus."
"Additionally, administrators and staff discuss and prepare students on how to report and respond to threats to the safety of themselves or others, as well as using the OK2SAY reporting line," Tuller said. "Staff participated in A.L.I.C.E training last school year and are scheduled for a refresher course in the near future.
"Mason students and staff send out their thoughts and prayers to those involved and impacted by the devastating situation at Oxford High School this week."
Whiteford Agricultural Schools added a resource officer in April 2018 in a three-way partnership with the township and the Monroe County Sheriff's Office. Deputy Michael Bomia teaches the district's 5th grade D.A.R.E. program, and splits the rest of his time between the elementary school and middle/high school, while also patrolling the township when school is not in session.
"From what I know in my little time here at Whiteford, the community really supports Deputy Bomia being at our school district," said first-year Whiteford Supt. Scott Huard. "He's considered one of our employees, he's a team member, the kids look up to him... The kids view him not as another authority figure, so to speak, but in more of a mentor role."
This article originally appeared on The Monroe News: Most Monroe County schools have a resource officer on hand