Rapid City School Resource Officer: “This is where I belong”
Despite the perception and the challenges, Whittle shows up with a smile every single day
RAPID CITY, S.D. — It’s the collision of two worlds – law enforcement and education. School Resource Officers in the Rapid City Area School District work every day to build relationships with students to ensure safety and healthy development.
One of those SRO’s is Deputy Alix Whittle. She’s been with the Pennington County Sheriff’s Office for almost six years, and comes from a law enforcement family. Her dad was a Pennington County Sheriff’s Deputy, as was her brother, who is now a Special Agent with South Dakota’s Division of Criminal Investigation.
She’s the school resource officer at East Middle School in Rapid City.
“A lot of people have a perception that we’re just here to arrest kids. That’s not the case at all,” Whittle said. “If anything, it’s opposite.”
Whittle began her career with the Sheriff’s Office in October 2016 at the Juvenile Detention Center before transitioning to the law enforcement side in February 2019.
“I chose the middle school on purpose. Middle school, I feel like, you still have a chance to make an impact or change,” Whittle said.
Handling everything from disruptions to drugs, Whittle is relatable, while still being a forceful presence on campus.
Deputy Whittle wears many hats in her role as a school resource officer.
“Sgt. Seitz told me that it was like drinking from a firehose,” Whittle said. “That’s very accurate.”
She deals with everything from explosive behaviors to drugs, alcohol, and guns, really “anything that you would deal with on the street.” But it’s not all reactive. In fact, Whittle works to develop positive relationships with students before there’s ever any disciplinary action. She tries to go have lunch with younger kids, when she can, to make sure they aren’t afraid of law enforcement.
Terry Lundeen, the principal at East Middle School, said, “I think it’s oftentimes nice for students to see them in a different light, too. Students might interact with law enforcement outside in the community at their homes, but it’s nice to have that familiar face here at the school-level.”
With an open door and an open mind, Lundeen and Whittle work side-by-side prioritizing student safety.
DID YOU KNOW? Not only do school resource officers work with troubled kids at school, they also help if something traumatic happened outside of school as well. The “Handle With Care” program in the Rapid City Area Schools lets SRO’s and teachers know that something troubling is going on at home – whether it was a parent arrested or some other incident where law enforcement was involved. Without giving details, the “Handle With Care” program alerts staff that a student may be struggling.
“I don’t focus more on like ‘you did something wrong,’ I try to focus more on educating them on why did that happen….who are you around, what influenced that and then what can we do to teach you so that doesn’t happen again?” Whittle said.
Something mundane – just a dish full of candy – helps break the ice. Whittle says she spends around $200 a month just to keep the bowl full.
“The kids that are naughtier come from not great homes and don’t get a lot of treats, and so it brings them in,” Whittle said. “That’s who I want to talk to.”
It’s a reason to come talk.
“Principal Lundeen likes to say we bring them really close,” Whittle said. They do a lot of extra things to work with kids and to work through whatever the behavior is.
The job comes with unique challenges. When asked what the biggest challenge is, Whittle paused before answering.
“When you see that a kid can be really great and it’s their environment that is not great, and you feel like you could help them have a really good life, but they don’t have that support at home or anywhere else,” Whittle said. “It’s really hard to help them through that.”
SRO’s have a unique relationship in schools. Check out Deputy Whittle giving some advice to parents about how their children use smartphones:
There are pros and cons to children having smartphones. Parents, please keep an eye on how your children use their phones! pic.twitter.com/kITH12Rvry
— Pennington County SO (@PennCoSheriff) September 6, 2022
Despite the perception and the challenges, Whittle shows up with a smile every single day.
“I love it. This is…I don’t really know how to explain it, but this is where I belong. I know this is where I belong.”
The Pennington County Sheriff’s Office has around four open hiring campaigns per year to bring on new Sheriff Deputies and Correctional Officers. If you’re interested in working for the PCSO, visit the link here.