By Bob Skolnik
Riverside-Brookfield High School's new safety liaison, Lane Niemann, just completed his first week.
Niemann, who retired on Nov. 30, 2017, from his position as the police chief in North Riverside, spent his first week on the job at RBHS getting to know the school, teachers, staff and students.
Only five parents turned out Jan. 10 to meet with Niemann at a school event to introduce him to parents. Over the next two days, Niemann introduced himself to students at class assemblies.
"It's a different environment than what I used to, but I'm really impressed with the way they handle things," Niemann said of his first week. "Their systems seem to be working very well."
Niemann's office is located in the school's Student Services Center near the main entrance. The decision to locate Niemann with the counselors and social workers was twofold.
Administers wanted Niemann to be as close as possible to the main entrance so he could quickly respond to any intruder, and they wanted to send a message that Niemann was not hired to work in the role of a disciplinarian.
Niemann will be armed, but it has not yet been decided whether he will openly carry his firearm or conceal it.
On Jan. 18, the Riverside Village Board is expected to approve an intergovernmental agreement with District 208 to make Niemann an auxiliary Riverside police officer, which would allow Niemann to openly carry a gun and give him to power to issue local ordinance citations for offenses such as cannabis possession and disorderly conduct.
Some parents at the introductory meeting wondered why the school board and administration never spoke openly of the desire to have an armed person at the school or create this new position until they had already hired Niemann.
"It doesn't sit right with me to have an armed security guard in my daughter's school," Bridget Tarrant said before the meeting.
Another parent wondered if Niemann was hired to protect against threats posed by RBHS students. Assistant Principal for Student Affairs Dave Mannon and Niemann both responded that Niemann was hired to protect students and staff against threats from intruders.
"There's a calming effect to know that there is somebody that's going to be there for them, for the teachers and for the students," Niemann said. "They know that there is somebody there to protect them."
Niemann said he is prepared to stop an armed person at the school should that ever occur.
"I feel very confident in my abilities and, as long as I'm breathing, that person is not going to get at our kids," Niemann said. "That's a huge thing."
Niemann will have a variety of duties. He will assist in residency investigations, traffic control, school investigations of all sorts, review safety and security procedures, work to prevent fights and drug use, attempt to prevent bullying and harassment, and help supervise large events. He will be present in the cafeteria during lunches.
"I'm here for you guys," Niemann told the freshman class at a class assembly. "I want you guys to have a nice, secure learning environment, knowing that when you're in the classroom you going to be able to take care of your business there and feel safe."
Students had mixed reactions to the hiring of Niemann and having someone with a gun inside the school.
Junior Noah Osowski thought it was a good idea and overdue.
"I think that it's like a much-needed improvement as to where security was for RB previously," Osowski said. "I think this is a step in the right direction and hopefully they get progressively better at it."
But senior Gabrielle Tarrant says that she doesn't think the new position is needed.
"I have never felt unsafe in my school before, and I think it's a waste of the school's money that could be put to the arts programs," Tarrant said. "I don't think it's needed."
Sophomore Beck Nolan had mixed feelings. He worked with Niemann last year when he made a video about the North Riverside Police Department for RBTV. While Nolan holds Niemann is high regard, he doesn't feel it is a good idea to have someone with a gun at RBHS.
"It makes me feel safe, but at the same time a little threatened," Nolan said. "I think the security at our school is doing just great.
"I don't think carrying a firearm around 13-, 14-, 15-year-old kids is OK at all."