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Cloquet school resource officer on frontline of education

Kierra DeFoe, Lindsey Dunaiski, Daisha Bosto, School Resource Officer Erik Blesener, Marlee Castellano and Mercedes Bednarek pause for a photograph after lunch, Tuesday, Feb. 19. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 2
Thelema Crider, Alyssa Doble and Aryah Johnson, along with School Resource Officer Erik Blesener, stop between classes at Cloquet High School on a recent afternoon. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal2 / 2

"Hey, Officer Blesener, how are you?" one student asks as she walks by. Blesener fist-bumps with another student as he continues his walk through the halls.

School Resource Officer Erik Blesener walks down the Cloquet High School hallways as students mill about leaving lunch and heading to class. Most students greet him with a smile.

Blesener said he feels more accepted at the schools this year and has earned the trust and friendship of many students throughout the schools. Blesener is happy to report a drop in the number of student assaults and thefts from last school year. During that time, a handful of Cloquet students were sent to Arrowhead Regional Corrections, for misbehaving.

Blesener is halfway through his second school year as SRO and feels he has made a positive difference in the schools.

Assistant Cloquet High School Principal Tim Prosen agrees. The two work side-by-side on a daily basis. The students provide ample opportunity for Blesener to work with Prosen on realistic consequences and the law side.

"He's trying to be present and have a working relationship with the kids," Prosen said. "Even if I have him in for minor things, the kids realize he's trying to help them and educate them. He is a frontline for education and helps keep the street police out."

A few students have asked Blesener how they can become an SRO.

"I think that's a compliment to what he is doing," Prosen said.

Blesener's main role is help steer kids away from trouble and help them make better choices. Students drop by to chat at his high school office every day. Most days, it's small talk and other times, they ask for advice.

Blesener enjoys the impromptu conversations with the students.

"I am here in support of the students," Blesener said. "I am here as an advocate, not to arrest students."

He leans back in his chair and smiles as he talks about the students. He is wearing a casual work uniform — khakis and a polo — instead of the formal officer's uniform. He believes it makes him more approachable.

This year, Blesener implemented the restorative justice talking circle to help deal with students behavior issues among themselves. He attended 40 hours of training last spring. Out of 42 teachers and other school staff members, he was the only SRO at the training.

"It's the most touchy-feely thing you'll never see a cop do," Blesener said with a laugh.

He said the technique has been successful.

"We have never had a repeat incident when the students are involved with a talking circle," Prosen said.

Bleseners presentations have been well-received. He has been asked to travel to the Twin Cities to give presentations about the program in a few schools.

In the last few weeks, there have been several fights or near-fights on school grounds. He notes there are more fights among girls than boys

An ongoing issue with students is vaping, and school staff are taking it seriously.

"The cameras help," Prosen said.

"We don't just do warnings," Blesener said. The devices are confiscated when they are discovered.

"It (e-cigarette) is an electronic device that delivers nicotine in a mist to the user," Blesener explains.

He said the devices are small and easy to hide. They come in many sizes and colors with prices ranging up to $200. Sometimes, while walking the hallways Blesener catches a whiff of a fruity Kool-Aid-type smell and knows someone was recently vaping nearby.

The vape juice comes in many flavors and strengths of nicotine. Not only is the vape juice available with nicotine, some vape juice contains 96 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (commonly called THC), a main active ingredient of cannabis.

Blesener acknowledges at this point the THC juice affects a very small part of the vaping students. Studnets caught with THC vape may be charged with possession of marijuana.

Blesener said he isn't allowed to search the students.

He said the situation has improved in the last few months and hopes it continues to do so. Prosen agreed that it has been fairly quiet in the school recently.

"Having an SRO in the school is a huge asset," Prosen said. "I wish we could have two."