Bridging the gap: Dickinson corporal helps humanize police to students
Though levels of juvenile delinquency in Dickinson have not really fluctuated during the oil boom years, the police department decided to take precautionary measures.
Capt. Joe Cianni said the department implemented the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program in Dickinson Public Schools about two years ago amidst increases in oil activity corresponding with a rise in drug criminality.
"When we started going through the oil boom of sorts, and we saw the influx of drugs and how it was impacting our community, we felt that we had to do something that was proactive to reach out to the youth and try to curb that potential for drug abuse or experimentation at a younger level before it got to the point of abuse," he said.
The school district was on board with the idea, but it took an additional two years for the district to find a way to implement the D.A.R.E. lessons into the day while still covering the rest of its curriculum, he said. In 2014, the program was ready and the police department sent Cpl. Brandon Stockie and Officer Samantha Okke to South Dakota for a two-week training to teach the D.A.R.E. lessons.
Stockie and Okke now work together to teach seventh-graders the course over 12 weeks, Stockie said. The curriculum has changed over the past 10 years with an emphasis now on decision-making tactics, teaching the ramifications of a student's actions and encouraging making positive decisions rather than using scare tactics to keep students away from drugs and alcohol. For example, rather than showing kids before and after photos of drug addicts, the officers might instead discuss how smoking as a middle schooler could harm their ability to play sports in high school.
The district had a similar program called CounterAct for a few years before dropping it in the mid-'90s because it was not proving to be effective, Cianni said. The revitalized D.A.R.E. program had shown to be making a difference in the schools, so the police department decided to bring it to Dickinson.
"I'm just a big supporter of the D.A.R.E. program specifically," Cianni said. "There's a lot of drugs in the community and availability is at a high level right now, and the more we can do to educate and take a proactive approach, the better we are going to be as a community as a whole for the future."
Stockie, who has been with the department for nine years, also serves as Dickinson Public School's school resource officer. He works around the district but focuses more on Dickinson High School and Hagen Junior High.
He is also the point of contact for the elementary schools and can be accessed by other schools in the area if needed, he said. He took over the role after the previous officer left the department at the end of last school year.
The school district appreciates having the resource officer on-site, too.
"He interacts with our students in a very positive way, and students come to understand that he is a staff member, and he obviously works for the police too, and they get to better understand what a police officer does," said Dickinson High School Principal Ron Dockter. "I think it does a great job of having good relations between the police department and students, and students knowing that these policemen are people also."
Stockie handles any criminal activity at the schools, teaches classes and serves as an informal counselor fielding any questions students may have about law enforcement. Students sometimes come up with "off-the-wall" questions for Stockie—things he does not always expect people their age to ask, he said. One student asked him if they were allowed to climb onto their desk and preach God's word during the school day and he explained the rules around that.
He also serves as the detective on all juvenile investigations in the city.
"It teaches them, especially now with the nationwide trend of being anti-law enforcement, it helps me give a face to [the police force] and teach them, 'Yes, we can do this because of this,' or, 'That happened because of this.'"
Depending on what issues the student body is facing, the school resource officer also caters classes to fit that need, though he and the district have not yet identified a major issue to focus on this year.
Last year the previous officer focused on appropriateness online because of the levels of cyber bullying across the nation, though this has not been a large issue in the community, Stockie said.
Students also have the option Text-a-Tip to Stockie directly to report any criminal activity or just ask questions either with their name or anonymously. He said this has proven pretty effective and he receives messages weekly from students.
Overall, he said the city of Dickinson does not have the same levels of juvenile delinquency as other parts of the nation.
"We're lucky as a city of Dickinson," Stockie said. "Our juveniles aren't doing things like other juveniles are nationwide. You don't see that crime increase that we've seen nationwide."