New officer a good fit for students
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Jan 16, 2008  |  Vote 0    0

New officer a good fit for students

St. Marys Journal Argus

As students returned to St. Marys DCVI from their Christmas break last week, they were welcomed by a new face, that of const. Bill Dekoning, the community's new school resource officer.Dekoning started his new job last week. He'll be splitting his time between St. Marys and North Perth, spending the majority of his time at DCVI and Listowel District Secondary School, although he will be available as a community resource when called upon by elementary schools, the youth centre or other community organizations.It is his responsibility to educate youth about the dangers of drugs, most notably crystal methamphetamine, as well as be available to students as a resource if they have any questions, and of course, be there to enforce the law if need be. The school resource officer's position was created only last month after the St. Marys Police Services Board successfully applied for funding through the county's Task Force on Crystal Meth. The town and North Perth each received a one-time grant of $45,000, enough to fund the position for one year. When members of the Board first applied for funding, they made it clear they would want an experienced officer, and with Const. Dekoning, they get just that. Dekoning comes with 14 years of work experience, most recently with the Perth County OPP, based out of the North Perth detachment. He's split time working with the campus police at Wilfred Laurier University, on the municipal force in the Halton Region and in the northwest region of theprovince. The majority of his career has been as a general patrol officer, but he has served as both a community services and media relations officer.Most recently, Dekoning was a detective with Perth County OPP's crime unit."I think I'm a good fit," said Dekoning last week during an interview on hissecond day at DCVI. "I enjoy working with youth."Dekoning also pointed out that he regularly attended schools in North Perthto talk to students about drug awareness when he was a community servicesofficer, and that he expects he'll be making similar presentations tostudents in St. Marys in the future."I also have three children, two of them teenagers, so I know the challengesthat are involved being around teens," he added.Dekoning said he also has a strong understanding of today's drug culture,and what are the more prevalent problems specific to Perth County. And whilethere are still many other drugs out there that he wants to help studentsavoid all together, Dekoning is most alarmed by the growing number of usersof crystal meth."(Crystal meth) use has grown tremendously in recent years," he noted, "I'veseen it first-hand, when working as a general patrol officer, what kind ofdestructive effect it has on someone. And not just on the individual, buttheir family and the entire community."Crystal meth is considered a ‘hard drug,' as opposed to a ‘soft drug' suchas marijuana, but the perception that high school students will thereforestay away from it is simply not true, said Dekoning. Speaking fromexperience, he said if a drug exists in a community, it most definitelyexists at the high school."I've dealt with a number of youth, high school aged kids, that have becomeinvolved with crystal meth," he said, "I've dealt with 50 and 60 year olds(involved with crystal meth) and youth as young as 14 - there really is noage target."I know it's in the schools," he added, "to what extent, I don't know yet."Dekoning is quick to note, however, that when addressing a drug problem inthe high school, or the community for that matter, the police are alwaysdealing with a minority."These students have choices they're confronted with every day, andsometimes they don't make the right choices, that's human nature," he said."(But) most kids don't get involved in these kinds of drugs."Once exams are finished and students return for regular classes, Dekoningsaid he plans on speaking with each class, beginning with the Grade 9s, tointroduce himself and let them know that his office at the school is open toanyone that may have a question or concern regarding any form of substanceabuse. Part of what Dekoning hopes to be to students is a resource for anyonestruggling with drugs, to be able to direct them to agencies forrehabilitation or counselling - to "help them get back on the right track."But Dekoning said it will take students some time before they feelcomfortable enough to come talk to him. In addition to speaking withstudents in each class, Dekoning said he will visible in the halls betweenclasses and at lunch and outside, talking to students to get to know them."If I can develop relationships with the students it will make my jobeasier," he said. "(But) it will take some time to build that trust andrespect with them."Dekoning is also clear that as much as he hopes to be on friendly terms withstudents, he's also there to respond to any calls that would otherwise bemade to the OPP detachment to deal with crimes such as theft, assault ormischief. "I'm not coming in here waving a heavy stick, but it's all part ofmy job," he added.And if the OPP can begin to tackle the drug problem, addressing it in eachcommunity right across the county, Dekoning said they will see an reductionin the number of spin-off crimes, such as theft and mischief. "Propertycrimes and drugs go hand-in-hand," he said, adding that many users have toresort to ‘petty crimes' to support their habit.And for any parents that don't like the idea of an armed officer roaming thehalls of their child's school, Dekoning said he understands, but that "thepositive (of having him there) far outweigh the negatives.""I'll do whatever I can to make sure students don't get involved with thedrug culture," said Dekoning. "We will see results, they may not beimmediate, but we will see them."Dekoning's schedule will vary from week to week, depending on other dutiesof his such as court appearances, scheduled training and other needs in thecommunities outside of the two high schools. For the most part, however, hewill be on a rotating schedule -  two days a week at one school, three atthe other - between St. Marys and Listowel.When the town's contract with the OPP is renewed in 2009, it will beDekoning's experiences that the town will look back on to determine if thetown will make room in its budget, or look for outside funding, to create afull-time position.

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