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Polson grads return as school officers

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POLSON — Two Polson High School graduates are giving back to the community and that entails working in law enforcement at local schools.

Nate Lundeen, 39, works in Polson schools, while Brian Hines, 30, is in Ronan and Pablo. The men rotate between various schools in those areas throughout the week.

Lundeen has been a school resource officer with the Lake County Sheriff ’s Office for eight years. Essentially all of an SRO’s time is spent at schools, he said.

Lundeen started in the program in 2008 at St. Ignatius, Arlee and Charlo, schools where Clay Shoemaker now works for the Lake County Sheriff ’s Office.

Lundeen has been at Polson schools for five years helping ensure the safety of students and staff.

“Nothing’s ever routine,” he said, noting he deals with situations involving parents and guardians. “It can get messy,” he said.

Sometimes the SROs get involved if a student posts harassing things on Facebook or sends messages via Snapchat about another student. This can involve threatening, lewd or harassing words or photos. Basically, such activity amounts to disorderly conduct, the officers say.

In other instances, an SRO may visit a home on a welfare check if a student hasn’t attended school in a few days.

Lundeen and Hines can do one-on-one counseling with students or as part of a counseling session with others.

“You get to learn a lot from kids,” Lundeen said. “You get to know ‘em on a personal basis.”

One of the main parts of their job is to educate students about the law, including privacy in communications.

The officers try to “catch ‘em early at the middle school when they’re getting their phones,” Lundeen said. Middle and high school students are allowed to use their cell phones in between classes and during lunch, Hines said, noting the SROs enforce criminal law, not school policy.

“They get used to you and are comfortable talking to you,” Lundeen said. The men communicate with the juvenile courts too. “We’re not here to punish kids, we’re here to educate,” Lundeen said, noting that if a student’s parents don’t want to cooperate, youth court is the next step.

The SROs are also involved in building safety. This includes walking around and checking doors.

“We work with custodians and try to plan ahead before things happen,” Lundeen said. This can involve such things as lighting and video camera placement in hallways, parking lots and the gymnasium.

Both men said they enjoy their jobs.

According to Lake County Undersheriff Ben Woods, the bulk of the salaries for the three SROs is funded through a mill levy that voters approved in 2006. 

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