News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 17, 2013

Vigo authorities working to keep schools safe

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Juvenile detective and school liaison officer Troy Pesavento spends a lot of time at Woodrow Wilson Middle School.

He talks to students and offers advice if they are having problems, and he handles their cases if they have broken the law.

A former teacher, Pesavento educates them about potential ramifications of texting and Facebook, and he also talks to them about giving back to their community.

He also deals with parents and helps them get their children “back on track,” as he describes it.

“I have the best job in the world,” said the 46-year-old, who spent more than 10 years teaching schools, both public and private, before he changed careers to do something he had always wanted to do — become a police officer. He was hired by the Terre Haute Police Department two days before his 36th birthday. He’s been with the police department for 11 years, five of them as a patrol officer and six as a juvenile detective/liaison officer.

As one of four THPD school liaison officers, he’s responsible for five city schools: Franklin, Davis Park, Meadows and DeVaney elementary schools, in addition to Wilson middle school.

Each day, he goes to Wilson at 7:30 a.m., lunchtime and at the end of the school day. While looking out for security issues, he also works with students who might be facing some difficulties and offers advice.

“I want them to see me at the start, middle and end of the day,” Pesavento said. He wants them to know they can count on him.

School Principal Sharon Pitts said Pesavento “really likes working with kids and wants to make a difference in their lives. He does a good job at that,” she said. “He works well with Mr. [Dan] Raubuck,” the school dean, she said.

Pesavento deals with any crimes committed by the children who attend his schools, as well as any crimes committed against those children.

He does educational programs, including safety-related ones at the elementary level. At Wilson, he makes presentations on juvenile law and another that looks at how students can contribute to their community.

At the elementary schools, a principal might want him to talk to a student or family or deal with a security issue. On Tuesday, he planned to check on an elementary student “who acted out against another student.”

In the afternoon, he had a hearing at the Vigo County Juvenile Justice Center, involving a student who had been involved with several burglaries.

Pesavento has a hectic schedule, but he enjoys what he does. “Just like with teaching, you get to see the results of your labors,” he said.

There are a lot of parents who sometimes “need help and fresh ideas on how to get their children on the right path or get them back on track,” Pesavento said. “We can step in and offer them options on which ways to go and help them out with their children’s behaviors.”

The goal is to help the child, he said. “We don’t want to make it harder for the child to progress in the future.”

If there is a fight at school, “We need to work with the school and come up with proactive ideas on how to keep that fight from happening again — and if at all possible, keep there from being a situation where someone is incarcerated.”

But there also may come a point when a student has to be turned over to the juvenile justice system.

When he talks to middle school students about juvenile law and detention, “They need to know that is a real undesirable option for undesirable behavior,” he said.

As he goes through schools, he is always thinking in terms of security. “We are always updating school officials about better ways to make things safer,” whether it might involve surveillance cameras or other security devices, he said.

While he specializes in working with juveniles, Pesavento works other cases, as well, including a pending trial involving a charge of attempted murder.  

Wilson Principal Pitts said one of her parents commented that Pesavento cares about kids and wants to help them make good decisions. “He does a nice job for us,” Pitts said. He also provides security at ball games and other after-school events.

The police department juvenile division has four liaison officers, two at the high school level and two at the middle schools, and liaison officers also work with elementary feeder schools, said Lt. Jason Brentlinger, who is over the juvenile division.

The liaison program will continue, even after off-duty city police are placed in each school to provide security, he said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.