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“Officer Joe”, Harmony native, named South Dakota School Resource Officer of the Year


By Mitchell Walbridge

Fri, Jun 13th, 2014
Posted in Harmony Features

Officer Joe Fishbaugher, known simply as “Officer Joe” in the halls of the Brookings Public Schools, was this year’s School Resource Officer of the Year. He received the award on May 6 at a special ceremony. Photo submitted

“It has been a pleasure to work with Officer Joe in Brookings,” says Mickelson Middle School Principal Melinda Jensen, one of the administrators responsible for a nomination for the School Resource Officer of the Year award. “Officer Joe adds to the calm, orderly sense of decorum at our schools. He maintains a professional distance when necessary--but is engaging and personable so the students feel his honest care for them.”

“Officer Joe”, the individual to which Jensen refers to, is Harmony native Joe Fishbaugher who graduated from Harmony in 1994. Joe is the son of Tom and Barb Fishbaugher.

Officer Joe is the most recent recipient of a very prestigious award, School Resource Officer of the Year. A lot has went into making Joe this year’s award recipient.

Like most college students, it took Joe a few attempts to narrow down his interests. He originally set out for South Dakota State University - Brookings after being recruited for football. At that time he was seeking a degree in Veterinary Medicine, but then made a change to Sociology with a minor in Criminal Justice and then transitioned to Business Economics before finally settling on Criminal Justice.

Those academic changes have now led to a rewarding and successful career for Officer Joe. Since graduating from SDSU, he has been a supervisor at the Juvenile Detention Center in Sioux Falls, S.D. He has also been a youth counselor in a rehabilitation facility in Sioux Falls, helping chemically addicted youth. From there, he progressed to holding the position of Juvenile Agent for South Dakota, a job that provided him to have jurisdiction over the entire state of South Dakota, dealing with juveniles that had committed serious crimes in the state.

In his years in law enforcement, Officer Joe has worn many hats. He went from being Chief of Police of a small town south of Sioux Falls, a position that led him to where he is today... working for the Brookings Police Department. He has been in Brookings for the last 13 years and is a school resource officer, D.A.R.E. instructor and is part of the Criminal Investigative Division that specializes in juvenile crimes, abuse, sexual assaults, drug addiction and family offenses.

To prove he is dedicated to his community and its safety, outside of work Joe gets very involved as a member of several boards such as the Child Protection Team, Brookings County Youth Mentoring Program and Volunteer Service Bank. Joe also works as a member of the Methamphetamine Awareness Prevention Project of South Dakota, a committee that travels to educate communities, businesses, schools, hospitals and other public agencies about meth abuse and reporting procedures. The project also educates law enforcement, EMT’s and fire departments about the proper procedures to safely enter and decontaminate homes where meth is present.

Other memberships include the National Association of School Resource Officers and the South Dakota Peace Officer’s Association, of which he is one of four co-founders. In the past Joe has been a volunteer firefighter with the City of Brookings, a volunteer at the Brookings Domestic Abuse Shelter, a member of Crime Stoppers, and an honorary member of the Brookings Optimist Club, and a member of a charity group in Brookings called the Lunch Club.

Keep in mind these are all duties that he has had outside of his regular job. Officer Joe has been with the Brookings School District for roughly 12 years. “I love working with the children and building that relationship with the families, the teachers, and the youth so that we, Law Enforcement, are seen has human beings also, and not just ‘that cop’,” says Joe.

Joe explains that besides crime a challenge that law enforcement faces with society is how police officers are often dehumanized. “People forget this is a job and that the person getting shot at by that bank robber has a 5 year-old daughter in school, or the officer that is investigating the rape and killing of a teenage girl, has not been home for over 48 hours, and is missing time with his or her family to help that victim’s family find closure. That officer can’t make it to the baseball game, the basketball game, or the Christmas sermon because he or she is out cutting a person out of their car because they drove drunk and hit a pole.”

Situations like the ones Joe lists are ones that an everyday citizen thinks comes in the job description. Even so, the scenes that law enforcement witness and the dedication they commit to is infinite.

The job title ‘school resource officer’, to this author’s knowledge, is not a common term in any Fillmore County school district. For those who are unfamiliar with the need to have a school resource officer on school grounds, Officer Joe answered the question: Many here are unfamiliar with having an officer in the school since our districts are so small. Can you tell us the need for them, especially in larger districts?

His response: “In this day and age, I don’t understand why law enforcement is not in our schools across the nation. Our children are our most precious commodity and we, as adults, no matter what role you play in your community, are responsible for their safety.” Joe thinks that this is not a problem put on shoulders of law enforcement or schools individually, but states, “I think the need for this is very apparent when all you have to do is turn on the news daily and see a mass shooting.”

While some find the thought of having an officer present in the school around the clock intimidating, Joe explained, “Even in small communities, you don’t need to have an officer in the school, but there is absolutely no reason that police and deputies cannot walk through schools daily to get involved.”

The way society perceives crimes has evolved and continues to evolve. “We, as a society, have become so non-empathetic, that we sit on our couches at home and watch a person so chemically addicted that they are either going to die from the addiction or end up in jail. And this is entertainment to us,” says Joe.

No day in the shoes of Officer Joe is typical. He spends the majority of his days covering five schools, soon to be six, in the Brookings School District. On any given day he may investigate a rape case, sexting, child pornography, drugs in schools, assaults, domestic violence, mental health problems, family problems, attendance issues with students, bullying and social media crimes.

Despite dealing with the stresses of his daily work, Officer Joe really does love his job, and it shows. “He handles the difficult side of police business with authority, but never loses the sight of the fact that we are working with children and adolescents-and our approach is to correct behavior and help students learn to make good choices in the future,” said Principal Jensen.

On May 6 Officer Joe Fishbaugher was named the 2014 recipient of School Resource Officer of the Year at a special ceremony. His mother, Barb Fishbaugher who lives 10 hours away, was able to be present for the event.

“I was very surprised when I received this award. I honestly didn’t know what to say when I saw her. She has pulled surprises on me before, but this award was not at all what came to mind... I honestly don’t think it has set in yet.”

Joe Fishbaugher resides in South Dakota with his wife Nikki and her two daughters. Joe and Nikki were married June 29, 2013. He was also recipient of the 2009 Optimist Club Officer of the Year award and 2009 Officer of the Year for Veteran’s of Foreign Affairs.

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