New London High School students didn’t know it at the time, but there was an undercover police officer at the school for six weeks to start the second semester.
The police officer was recently hired by the New London Police Department. Before the officer started patrolling the streets, New London Chief of Police Jeffrey Schlueter gave him the assignment of going undercover as a senior student at the high school.
He said the officer looked young and wasn’t from the area. He said the department constantly hears about a drug problem at the school so he used this opportunity to see if there is indeed a drug problem.
“We needed to find out what the problem is and where it is,” Schlueter said. “It’s tough to get people to come out and tell us. No one wants to be snitches.”
Schlueter said he approached New London District Administrator Kathy Gwidt with the idea.
“We thought it was a great opportunity because we too have been very frustrated with some of the comments. The comments really weren’t tips that we were receiving,” Gwidt said.
She added that the comments were “almost an exaggeration.”
“As we investigated things we weren’t finding what we were hearing. It wasn’t making sense to us but at the same time we don’t want to be naive to the possibilities out there. If there is an issue we want to know what it is.”
Schlueter said the chatter about drugs in school increased after the RISE Together program in January.
“We know that there are drugs out in our community. And we are doing what we can to battle that from a police department aspect,” he said.
He said the police department brings canines to the school on a regular basis every year and they also do vehicle searches, as well as locker searches.
“It is very seldom that we find drugs in school but we keep hearing about it,” Schlueter said.
He added, “The kids deserve a safe place to go get educated. They deserve that.”
Schlueter said while the officer was undercover for six weeks, he did everything a senior in high school would do, including participating in classes and doing homework.
“He was keeping his eyes open to certain things,” Schlueter said.
Keeping an eye on things included checking bathrooms to see if pills were being passed around or students were shooting up. He also looked for unusual activity in the school and parking lots.
Gwidt said this included watching for instances of bullying.
Schlueter said the officer didn’t observe any physical bullying.
During the undercover investigation, Schlueter said the officer was busted by a staff member for being in the wrong part of the school building. Both he and the student he was with were searched at that time.
That incident showed Schleuter that the district has staff at the high school who are observant and on top of things.
Only Gwidt and the Director of Pupil Services knew the undercover cop was at the school. Even the school board didn’t know about the investigation.
Schlueter said he debriefed the officer each day.
While undercover, the undercover officer asked students about heroin and prescription pills. Some kids said they saw it in the community but not at school.
“We couldn’t get any specific examples,” Schlueter said.
He added that it doesn’t mean it’s not happening, but it’s not happening openly at the lunch table or in the bathrooms.
“He never found any needles,” Schlueter added.
The investigation did yield the arrests of a couple of individuals after they were investigated and ended up having marijuana on them.
“We took care of that right away. We made the arrest,” Schlueter said.
Schlueter said the department also received information that assisted it with investigations outside of the school district.
“During this time we’ve also made arrests that we believe cut off supplies to the school,” he said.
At the conclusion of the investigation, Schlueter said the undercover officer said it was a good school district.
“It was eye-opening. It gave us a chance to make sure the stuff wasn’t on campus,” Schlueter said.
Schlueter said the department probably could have found more stuff if the officer had stayed undercover longer, but with the department short-handed at the moment, the officer was needed on patrols in the city.
“I felt it was completely worth it. We needed to find out if we need to be doing more of something. We weren’t sure what that something was going to be, but whatever we found it out to be, we would have addressed it,” Schlueter said.
He added that he hopes this will help students take pride in their community and school.
“This isn’t a police department problem. It’s not just a school problem. It’s not a community problem. It’s not the kids’ problem. It’s everybody’s problem. We can’t all do this alone. We have to work together as a team to make sure this stuff ceases on our campus,” he said.
The school district sent a letter to the parents of students explaining the undercover investigation. Students were informed of the investigation at an assembly at the school on March 11.
Gwidt said the students mostly had a positive reaction to hearing the news.
She said teachers were also positive.
“They too were just so appreciative that we are all banning together, that we’re partnering to make this the best school, the best community it can be,” Gwidt said.
Feedback from parents has also been positive, Gwidt said.
“We will continue to try to come up with new ideas to keep that place safe,” Schlueter said.