By Bob Skolnik
Come January, Riverside-Brookfield High School will have a new employee, and he will be carrying a gun.
On Dec. 12 the District 208 Board of Education voted 6-0 to hire former North Riverside Police Chief Lane Niemann for the newly created position of school safety liaison.
Niemann will begin work at the start of the second semester, Jan. 8. He will work during the school day and will be paid $45,000 a year.
The school board and administration had been exploring the idea of having a police officer stationed at the school, but when Niemann announced he was retiring from his position as police chief in North Riverside at the end of November, the board and administration decided to hire him.
Niemann interviewed with the school board in November.
"We are the only school in the area that doesn't have police or off-duty police onsite in regards to high school," said District 208 Superintendent Kevin Skinkis.
Skinkis said Niemann will have wide ranging duties, including residency investigations, school investigations, working on crisis-response plans, staff training, safety and security procedures, drug and violence protection, bullying and harassment prevention, event supervision and traffic control.
"I'll jump into any situation where they need me," Niemann said. "I'm not really restricted to one specific thing."
School officials want Niemann to carry a gun to give the school an additional layer of protection.
"Across the country there are events that happen in schools," Skinkis said. "It's another level of security and safety."
School board President Garry Gryczan agreed.
"In case something happened on campus, we have a much quicker ability to respond as opposed to waiting for law enforcement to show up," Gryczan said.
Niemann said the only purpose of him carrying a gun is to protect students and staff.
"Obviously it's not to intimidate anybody that's in the school itself," Niemann said. "It's actually for anybody who would come into the school with bad intentions."
It has not yet been decided whether the gun will be concealed or not. Niemann will be wearing civilian clothes, because he has retired as a police officer.
At Lyons Township High School, a Western Springs police officer is stationed at the freshman-sophomore South Campus every day and a LaGrange police officer is at the junior-senior North Campus once a week. They both dress in civilian clothes and they both carry a gun.
RBHS teacher Marty Sloan, the president of the RBEA, the teachers' union, supports the hiring of Niemann and that he will be carrying a gun.
"The school liaison is a worthwhile addition," Sloan said in an email. "Many schools have one. A safer school is a better school."
Niemann may be commissioned as an auxiliary police officer in Riverside and he may have the power to issue citations and local ordinance violations.
"We're going to treat the role very similar to a school resource officer, except we're using a retired police officer who will be our employee," Skinkis said.
Niemann, 56, retired on Nov. 30 after 32 years as a North Riverside police officer, serving for the last 4-plus years as police chief. He worked for two years as a police officer in Indian Head Park before joining the North Riverside Police Department.
He is highly respected by other local law enforcement officials.
"I have a great working relationship with Lane," said Riverside Police Chief Tom Weitzel, who joined the Riverside Police Department at about the same time as Niemann joined the North Riverside Police Department. "I think we'll have a great partnership with District 208 on this program and we'll certainly have a great relationship with Lane Niemann, because there isn't a single one of my officers who doesn't know him."
Niemann was a certified instructor in the DARE anti-drug program and he later developed an anti-drug program called KNOW.
He taught DARE classes at Central School in Riverside and Brook Park Elementary School in LaGrange Park and the KNOW class at Komarek School in North Riverside.
RBHS already has five security people at the school, though none of them carry guns. School officials have been thinking about adding a school resource officer for some time. When they learned that Niemann was retiring, they sought him out.
"This wasn't a quick decision," Gryczan said. "It's been an ongoing back and forth discussion that the board has had for a while."
Niemann's local connections, experience, and personality made him a perfect fit, Skinkis said.
"It's like the perfect guy, perfect time," Skinkis said. "All the stars aligned."