Chippewa Middle School hires new full-time SRO


Ramsey County Sheriff Department Deputy Steve Grengs

Chippewa Middle School will be safer and perhaps a bit more orderly now that the school has hired a new school resource officer (SRO). Chippewa has had a part-time SRO for years now, but district administrators felt it was time to have an officer on the property full-time.

The school hired veteran Ramsey County Sheriff Department Deputy Steve Grengs as its SRO to look out for the safety of the building’s 960 students and dozens of staff members.

Grengs has 17 years of law enforcement experience with the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department. He has trained and worked with the Crisis Intervention and SWAT Teams, and has experience as a Field Training Officer and Acting Sergeant. He is also a retired military veteran with over 21 years of service in the Minnesota National Guard.

As impressive as his resume is, there are other reasons he was offered the position at the school, according to Chippewa’s Principal Mona Fadness.

“I think that one of the most important roles of an SRO is to act as a liaison to parents,” Fadness said. “Deputy Grengs is very approachable and answers questions well. He gets along with staff well and is really good around students, which is something we look for with any staff member.”

Grengs said he enjoys working with kids. He and his wife Lisa have raised two sons of their own, and Grengs missed being around and helping children. He has been a volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America, and has volunteered at the schools his sons have attended, where he also coached soccer.

“I’ve worked with adults long enough,” Grengs said. “This job is an opportunity to teach kids to act appropriately before they become adults.”

Prior to taking the SRO position at Chippewa, Grengs spent the past 12 years working at the Ramsey County Human Services building in downtown St. Paul, where he and three other armed officers were in charge of protecting the 1,200 employees who work in the building.

Ramsey County Sherriff Department Deputy Sgt. Kent Mueller worked with Grengs in the Human Services building for 12 years -- five of those years as a co-deputy and seven years as his supervisor -- and said Grengs is the guy you want to have in a crisis.

“I don’t say this lightly, Steve is the finest deputy I’ve ever worked with in my 23 years on the department,” Mueller said. He’s authoritative without being authoritarian. He’s great at calming people down.”

Mueller said there were times when someone would verbally threaten a social worker in the welfare office –- sometimes with their life -- and Grengs would always handle the situation calmly, and get the person to see how irrational they were acting.  

“He would pull them aside and say: ‘look I can arrest you right now or give you a ticket, or you can leave the building for the day, cool off and come back tomorrow when you’re ready to act civilized.’ People respected him and usually apologized, admitting to him the next day they were acting like a fool and then thanked him.”

But, Grengs can be tough too, according to Mueller.

“If someone was dangerous, had warrants and was a real threat to people, Steve was never afraid to act immediately in that situation. He does not back down,” Mueller said.

The danger level may be lower among Chippewa’s sixth, seventh and eighth grade students, but it should be comforting for parents, students and staff to know that Grengs is there to help if things get heated.

The deputy is onsite patrolling the school’s halls and making sure all the entrances and exits are secure during school hours. He is also responsible for directing bus traffic before and after classes. Additionally, Grengs is a valuable source of information for parents and students who have judicial or law related questions they need answered.

There are other added benefits to having a full-time resource officer on school grounds. An SRO is more than a cop on campus. An SRO takes a proactive approach to curbing juvenile delinquency in schools by spending time in classrooms educating students in law enforcement, offering counseling to students and by being a positive role model.

This is something Grengs is used to. He, and other deputies on duty at the Ramsey County Human Services building in St. Paul worked alongside social workers and other staff to help solve people’s problems through counseling and other means –- acquired skills that will be useful in working with Chippewa’s students.  

Today Grengs is settling into his new position, which he started in late January, and is busy getting to know as many of the school’s students as he can. He has visited several classrooms already to answer questions and let students know what he does.

“I’ve enjoyed getting to know the kids so far,” he said. “Middle school students are at a fun age and are not set in their ways like many kids are by the time they get into high school, so you have a real opportunity to help mold and guide them in the right direction.”  

 

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824.

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