The HCLA Class of 2023 came together to learn about Criminal Justice & Public Safety in early January. We focused on the county’s court system, probation services, emergency call center, and more. We ended our class day by touring the Hamilton County Jail.

I was asked to share my experience from this class day due to my role in the Criminal Justice Community Collaborative group project we have been working on. I chose to learn more about the criminal justice system during our opening retreat because I have always found public safety fascinating and underappreciated. I wanted to dive into the workings of public safety in Hamilton County so that I may be able to shift the rhetoric to a more positive tone.

Noblesville seems to be paving the path for the rest of the Hamilton County cities and towns, in regards to their community outreach programs. School resource officers have the opportunity to make such positive impacts on kids’ lives during their time in our schools and the officers in Noblesville are going above and beyond the call of duty with them. My time in high school – though in a different county – was very different; our resource officers were intimidating and unapproachable. School Resource Officer Shonkwiler, in particular, is building relationships with the students and helping them to make the right choices instead of simply disciplining them and moving on. Additionally, Officer Lugar with NobleAct is leading the way in crisis management with the help of his therapy dog, Luna. They travel to citizens’ homes and to public spaces to give them the therapy & support they so desperately need. Getting this help to people in the community is a huge win for Hamilton County.

When reflecting on my class day experience, I took away the need to recognize Hamilton County public safety officers for their work. Not only are they in charge of keeping us safe every day, but they also have to be heavily involved in community outreach and relations. The next time you see a police officer stop their patrol car to play soccer with some neighborhood kids, or a firefighter chatting with the grocery store worker, please don’t take them for granted. Healthy and happy officers make for a safe community. Join a Citizens Academy to see what really goes into being a public safety officer. As the Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter reminded us, “The time to create a relationship is not in the middle of a crisis.”