Cloquet Police Department Officer Larry Sherk hopes to connect with students and members of the community during his new assignment as school resource officer for the Cloquet School District.

“I've been a cop for five years and the students we have now, I'm going to know them throughout my whole career,” Sherk said. “Not everyone likes police and we know that. So (it’s about) having a friendly face that can show the kids it's OK to come talk to a police officer.”

Sherk has been with the Cloquet Police Department since October 2017 and spent the first three years of his career in western North Dakota, where he was an SRO for a year with the McKenzie County School District.

About a week before the school year started, while Sherk was at Special Weapon and Tactics school, or SWAT school, Police Chief Carey Ferrell asked him if he would be interested in serving as an SRO.

“I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Sherk said. “... If the department needs me to do something and it’s within my capability, I’m more than happy to do it.”

Beyond having a visible presence in the schools and building relationships, Sherk’s responsibilities also include ensuring safety across all buildings and at certain sports events, such as football games as well as some basketball and hockey games, especially those with greater school rivalries.

Families in the school district can typically spot him wearing a soft uniform of khakis and a polo shirt at school to present as more approachable to students. At sports events, he plans to dress in full uniform.

Sherk will also investigate any crimes that happen in the schools, such as a drug or tobacco offense. Spotting vaping when it’s happening, he said, will be tough, especially considering all the disguised vaping devices that exist, such as smart watches and hoodie strings.

“My biggest thing is if somebody's vaping, I want to know where they got it from,” Sherk said. “They got it from an adult somewhere. If we can figure that out, that might help solve the problem.”

He also hopes to take part in any restorative justice practices that take place within the schools as often as he can to better serve students. On Sept. 11, he joined students, staff and others at the Cloquet Area Alternative Education Program for a restorative practice.

Sherk takes over for Erik Blessner, who is on a voluntary leave of absence from the police department. Blessner was the SRO in 2017-18 and 2018-19.

His office is at Cloquet High School, but he plans to have a presence at every school, even if that means walking the halls of one of the elementary schools for an hour.

“If I’m in the high school and my door is open — and that goes for anybody, parents, teachers, students, administration — and you need to talk to me about anything, life in general, I'm more than happy to do that,” Sherk said.