KENT CITY, Mich. (WOOD) — As work continues to try to improve school safety, Kent County is adding more school resource officers.

The Kent County Sheriff’s Office now has 17 school resource officers across 13 school districts. One of those was recently approved by Kentwood Public Schools to work at East Kentwood High School, according to the sheriff’s office.

Rockford Public Schools and Kent City Public Schools have each added school resource officers this year. Deputy Chad Wells started at Kent City in January, becoming the second officer in that school district.

It’s part of a mission to make schools safer by stopping problems before they become worse.

“We’re kind of the front lines of youth and getting to see potential issues come to fruition and be able to address them before something bad happens,” Wells said.

In an interview with News 8 on Monday morning, Wells said he focuses on building relationships to help students.

“Just being able to be here every day and getting to know these kids on a more personal level I think is huge,” he said. “While it’s a small part of the school safety picture, I think it really broadens out into a bigger one. Every little step we have helps.”

Wells worked as a road patrol deputy for more than a decade with the sheriff’s office, Wyoming police and police departments out of state. He found a new calling when he started this job in January, a position that he calls a joy.

“Getting to know these kids and having them run up to me, give me fist bumps, high fives, hugs, it’s really cool,” Wells said.

Wells has a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old at home, which he said helps him connect with kids at Kent City Elementary.

“Being in that age group already with my children, it’s helped a ton with getting to know these kids and relating to them on a more personal level,” he said.

Deputy Chad Wells, the school resource officer for Kent City. (March 20, 2023)
Deputy Chad Wells, a school resource officer for Kent City. (March 20, 2023)

Wells spends Monday through Thursday at the elementary school and Friday at the high school. He has a threat assessment team that keeps an eye on student behavior. He is also part of a check and connect program in which he is assigned to certain students having problems.

By building trust and rapport with kids, he said he can recognize when something is wrong so he can help early on.

“We start recognizing behavior patterns or kids that are having a rough time,” Wells said. “We try to get involved with those kids, find out what’s bothering them, what’s going on. And a lot of it’s not so much happening here but at home.”

Kids even go to him with their problems.

“A lot of it, it’s not so much happening here but at home,” Wells said. “So addressing those problems before they become bigger ones. Finding resources or different things we can do to alleviate those issues, whether it’s counseling or family counseling, anything like that so we can try to prevent something bad from happening.”

Recently, a student came into his office to talk about some problems at home. Wells worked the student through it and let a teacher know to offer extra support.

“It felt really good to me knowing that little one felt safe and felt like they could trust me in the short amount of time to really open up and tell me what was going on so we could get them help,” Wells said. “Unfortunately, some children have rough home lives and this is their safe place. Having me there to help and make them feel safe is huge.”

In February, fake threats were called into schools across Michigan, including Portage and Muskegon. A Muskegon school resource officer in the building was quickly able to determine the threat wasn’t credible.

Wells said authorities take every threat seriously. After they ensure everyone is safe, they work to find out what caused the problem in the first place.

“It comes down to us knowing the kids and finding out what the backstory is on that and what the motivation is and make sure it’s not an actual threat,” he said. “We take everything seriously. We don’t want to take something lightly and something bad happens. We obviously investigate it to the fullest extent, that way we can verify there’s no actual threat to the community or the school. We also find out the root cause of what’s actually going on behind the scenes that created the issue in the first place.”

Wells said his road patrol experience in the Kent City area and his lasting relationships with deputies there allows him to have even more insight into what kids are dealing with.

“I know all the patrol guys because I worked with all of them,” he said. “So if there is an issue, they do give me a call: ‘Hey, Chad, we came out to this house, there was a domestic there’ or something along those lines. I can check in with that kid the following day. Or if it’s bad enough, I’ll come out that night and help whatever way I can.”

He said he hasn’t needed to do much enforcement as most problems have been handled at school.

“Some do make mistakes,” Wells said. “Most of it gets referred to the school for discipline. Some of it does get referred to juvenile services for petitions, but most of it is handled within the house and within the school.”

For Wells, the job “brings something new every day.” It’s work he takes a lot of pride in.

“These are our children, these are our most sacred people we want to keep safe,” he said. “Knowing I have a hand in that, and I have the ability and I’m here on a daily basis to keep kids safe if there were to be an issue, it’s huge.”