Longtime K-9 handler is Waterford’s newest school resource officer
Waterford — After 17 years of handling K-9s for the Waterford Police Department, Officer Dan Lane has turned his focus to a new population: Clark Lane Middle School students.
A school resource officer since the academic year began in August, the 45-year-old father of two said he had wanted the gig for a long time. Though his humorous personality is ripe for connecting with sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, Lane said it took time to adapt to a different style of policing.
On the night shift for his whole career, Lane now is up early greeting students as they get off the bus at 7:15 a.m.
Used to arresting people and handing them over to the courts, Lane now has to figure out how to maintain a good relationship with a student who gets in trouble but will come back to school.
Once answering only to police supervisors, Lane now consults with administrators, teachers and counselors before determining how to move forward.
And the job tests his memory, too.
Lane said he knows lot of parents and students because of his own children — Emerson, 11, and Brooks, 9 — and their involvement in sports. But since coming to Clark Lane, he has struggled to learn the names of all 600 students there — and he has unique handshakes with eight students and counting.
“The biggest problem is trying to remember” the handshakes, Lane said, laughing. “I say, ‘Listen, here’s the rule: there can only be four or five moves. You start getting fancy on me and throw in some dance moves or something like that, forget about it.’”
‘It’s fun for me’
On a recent Thursday, countless students said hello, offered high-fives and played the circle game with Lane — a game one wins by forming the “OK” symbol with one hand and tricking another person into looking at it.
Lane had lost the game earlier in the day, when a student said he had a steak sandwich for lunch. The student threw a circle down when Lane, skeptical, checked his lunch bag.
“It’s fun for me, it really is,” Lane said. “You have fun with the job, but hopefully also form that connection where, if a student is going through a rough patch — or a good patch — you can talk to them. That’s what they need.”
One of the more common functions Lane performs is meeting with students who’ve acted up in class. In other schools, such students may be marched straight to the office. But Lane likes to take each one on a walk to figure out what went wrong and what can be done to fix it.
Such a call came up Thursday, when a student pulled out a cellphone and defied his teacher’s orders to put it away. At first unwilling to admit what he had done was wrong, the student, with Lane’s direction, eventually agreed to meet back up with Lane after lunch and apologize to the teacher.
“A lot of times, because we’re able to interact in a positive way, we prevent a lot of stuff — we don’t let it get to that point,” said Lane, who spent his final two years of high school in Waterford and has been here since. “This is me taking a greater interest ... so hopefully I can influence the kids when they get older to make the right decision.”
Lane also is involved in after-school projects, whether dropping by a program that pairs student volunteers with special-needs students, visiting colleagues volunteering their time to mentor students or watching sports matches.
“It’s important for kids growing up to have relationships with us,” Lane said. “I have seven years left, but the officers coming up are mostly younger. (The students) are going to grow up with these officers, so that connection’s huge.”
While Lane visits the town’s three elementary schools whenever an issue arises, at least one patrol officer also drops in each day as part of the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s “Every School, Every Day” initiative, which launched after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Lane also is involved in an ongoing effort to provide key cards, labeled maps and school tours to patrol officers so they’ll know where to go and have easier access if an emergency situation were to arise.
“It benefits me to make sure everybody knows what’s going on,” said Lane, who has a three-year term and said he will stay as long as his department thinks it makes sense.
In Waterford, where at least one officer has been stationed in the schools since 1988, Lane said his biggest takeaway is clear.
“You appreciate what teachers do, and administrators,” Lane said. “But to see what they do every day, to see them have such a great attitude and personality and to be so motivated every day, even when their kids are having a bad day ... that’s the most impressive thing for me.”