Westwood schools welcome new police liaison officer

After serving as the police liaison officer at Blaine High School for four years, from 2006 to 2010, Officer Michelle Moore wasn’t sure she would ever have the opportunity to work in schools again.

Officer Michelle Moore, police liaison officer for Westwood Middle School and Westwood Intermediate School, connects with a group of sixth-grade boys at lunch.Photo by Olivia Koester
Officer Michelle Moore, police liaison officer for Westwood Middle School and Westwood Intermediate School, connects with a group of sixth-grade boys at lunch. Photo by Olivia Koester

She desperately wanted to. “The four years at Blaine High School were the best years of my career,” she said.

But the Blaine Police Department strives to give different officers opportunities to work in the school setting for development purposes, according to Chief Chris Olson.

Moore might have been out of luck had District 16 not requested a new liaison officer.

In April, the Blaine City Council approved the district’s request to place a liaison officer in Westwood Intermediate School and Middle School, a campus with nearly 2,000 students where police have not been stationed in more than 10 years.

Moore jumped at the opportunity and got the job.

Moore reports for duty

Moore began work at the Westwood campus this fall, adjusting to a younger age group.

“Senior high kids are driving,” Moore said, highlighting one difference between her experiences at Blaine and Westwood. “They are a lot older and statutes can apply a bit differently ….”

Middle school students always greet her in the hallway and ever curious, they often reach out to touch her duty belt, something high school students knew better than to do, she said.

Moore’s main focus is the safety and security of students at school, but there is much more to the position. A big part of her job involves speaking with students who want to talk about issues at home, she said.

She gives presentations to classes, too. Recently, she shared a personal story about a friend’s battle with depression and suicide in eighth-grade health classes. “I think it’s a good way to make me more of a real person, [rather] than just a uniform ….,” Moore said.

Her favorite part of the job is when students are wary of cops then “realize we’re really there to help them,” she said. “You can see that light bulb kind of go on and that trust start to build.”

Moore greets students in the morning, walks down the hallways during passing time and shows up at lunch regularly, just to talk and keep up her visibility.

Thus far, Moore has not run into too many problems. She has not seen any bullying yet, but she anticipates that it will be one of the bigger issues with the middle school age group.

Liaison logistics

The Blaine Police Department has liaison officers at four campuses: Blaine High School, Centennial High School, Roosevelt Middle School and Westwood.

These four campuses attract students from three school districts and many different municipalities, which can be a challenge when students talk to their resource officer about issues at home, as their home may not be within the officer’s jurisdiction, according to Moore and Olson.

Police liaison officers working in schools in Anoka County meet often to share information and discuss trends and problems.

Blaine police officers spend at least three years on the force before they are assigned to a school, Olson said. Moore has been with the Blaine Police Department for 19 years.

Liaison officers serve a school for a minimum of two years, maximum of four years to afford other officers an opportunity to work in the schools.

The school districts pay the liaison officers’ wages when school is in session and the officer reports for duty. When school is let out for breaks or summer vacation, for example, the liaison officer returns to patrol work and is paid by the city.

When students are in school, the liaison officer reports to work, but he or she can be called away for emergencies, Olson said.

The Blaine Police Department has not hired a patrol replacement for Moore and at this time, with budgetary cuts, there is no plan to do so, he said. The department continues to employ 59 officers, as it did before the liaison position was created at Westwood.

Student, staff reaction

At first, students were inquisitive, wondering why all of a sudden they had a cop at their school, Moore said.

Now, a group of sixth-grade students doesn’t bat an eye when she joins them for lunch. One student runs up to give her a hug, and Moore agrees to time a boy as he tries to solve a Rubik’s Cube.

The sixth graders said that Moore is “fun” and that they feel safer in school.

“She’s a great resource for not only our kids, but families,” said Tom Larson, principal of Westwood Intermediate School.

“We’re glad she’s here and look forward to the years ahead,” said Paula Hoff, Westwood Middle School’s principal.

Olivia Koester is at [email protected]