Officer Chris Gottfredsen joined River Falls Police Department in 1998 after working as a correctional officer for Eau Claire County. He became a school resource officer (SRO) in 2008. For the first decade of the job, Gottfredsen served as SRO of the entire school district. Now, he’s joined by a second SRO, Officer Bryan Jensen. Gottfredsen typically covers the elementary schools and middle school, with Jensen at the high school.
“I just really love it,” Gottfredsen said. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I’ve known some of these kids since they were in kindergarten. Many of the parents have had older kids go through the school district, and they recognize me as a regular, built-in part of the school experience here.”
Every day as a school resource officer looks a little different, but Gottfredsen’s job can be broken into two key roles: educator and counselor. He regularly drops in on elementary students to chat bike safety and Halloween safety, and he carves out time to visit the middle school health classes to discuss underage drinking and illegal drug use.
While Gottfredsen is one of the department’s 26 sworn officers, his role as school resource officer focuses less on enforcement and more on mentoring.
“Our police department is very, very supportive of the position and how Officer Jensen and I do our work,” Gottfredsen said. “This assignment is pretty different than patrol. I’m working with kids, so it’s about trying to be resourceful and understanding that they're young and they're going to make mistakes. My job is to maintain safety around the schools, but it’s also to help these kids evolve in ways that will set them up for successful and happy lives.”
In schools without a resource officer, when a student commits an offense – like being found with an illegal substance or getting into a fight – administrators will typically call in patrol officers. However, the sight of police cars and officers in uniform can not only draw unwanted attention, but can also be scary and intimidating to the offender.
“The kids here know me,” Gottfredsen said. “If we can catch a problem before it gets too big, we can often talk it through and figure out an individualized solution that diverts from the typical punitive options. When we do have to go the punitive route, I'm here in the building with the kid when they return after a school suspension. I’ll check in with them to make sure they’re doing okay. If they don’t want to talk, that’s okay, but if they do, we’ll chat, and I’ll let them know that they're not labeled in my eyes. They might have made a bad decision, but it doesn’t define them.”
While Gottfredsen takes the serious side of his job… well, seriously, he’s always ready to relive his own elementary and middle school days with the students.
“I am a pretty immature guy, so I fit in really well,” Gottfredsen said. “The kids appreciate it, because I let loose and act goofy with them. I'm in gym classes messing around, doing the same exercises they're doing on the floor. I'm at recess playing kickball with them. Sometimes I almost feel guilty – it’s like, I’m having fun, joking around, playing games, and this is my job. But that's what the school board, the City, and the police department want more of. It’s how I build relationships and trust, and that’s what allows me to make a positive impact. That’s the good stuff.”