As Richmond Community Schools swore in its first police chief, officials aimed to reassure families that the same three officers will be protecting their children as they did last spring.

During their July 12 meeting, RCS officials said actions are being taken to activate its new police department.

The new chief is Rick Thalls, who was school resource officer at his alma mater, Richmond High School, last year, and area manager of school safety resources. He has been interim chief in recent weeks.

Before transitioning to school safety, Thalls previously was chief deputy at Wayne County Sheriff’s Office. His father, also named Rick Thalls, was the officer at RHS from 1988 until his 2020 retirement.

Before the vote on Thalls’ new role, Richmond Police Department Chief Mike Britt addressed the board. Britt expressed confidence in Thalls and said RCS “is on the right path” as it creates its own department.

Britt noted this “bold undertaking” didn’t come up overnight, and that he was part of a series of meetings with RCS Superintendent Curtis Wright and Mayor Dave Snow. Britt admitted RCS having its own police force was “not my first choice,” feeling city officers should be policing schools, but the already shorthanded RPD couldn’t provide officers.

Upon Wright’s recommendation, RCS’ board voted 5-2 June 14 to not renew its agreement with WCSO that ends July 31. WCSO had previously deputized school resource officers Cody Dudley, Dustin Cushing and Thalls, and they were at RCS last school year.  

That trio is transitioning to RCS’ new department. All have completed training from National Association of School Resource Officers and achieved Indiana Law Enforcement Academy’s highest Tier 1 level.

Wearing professional uniforms, RCSPD officers will again be stationed at RHS, Dennis Middle School and Community Youth Services.

Thalls is seeking a fourth officer with at least three years of experience to cover Test Intermediate and Hibberd Program Building, and offer flexibility for illness, training or other responsibilities. He wants to add officers to serve younger grades as funds allow.  

Wright said RPD’s guidance is helping RCS avoid issues that have affected other school corporations while creating police departments.

“We’re just as safe as we have been, and we’ll work to continue to increase and enhance our safety and security,” Wright said.

Lily Vincent, Hibberd art teacher, spoke on behalf of Richmond Education Association Racial Equity Coalition. The coalition of educators, community members and stakeholders aim to further the school board’s goal of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in RCS

With a new police force, Vincent said RCS needs to think about race and how the district can be thoughtful going forward. Vincent asked the board to prioritize creation and passage of an equity policy, calling it a bottom-up commitment to students and community. She said RCS leaders previously noted the need to hire more Black and Latino educators.

“Are we showing our Black and Latino students that Richmond Community Schools cherishes and supports them?” Vincent asked. “Is this a community that those students want to stay in? Right now, the answer is no. Our teachers are told anything that promotes Black Lives Matter is not allowed.” 

RCS attorney Ron Cross acknowledged that many questions are still being resolved during the activation. A company is providing written policies and procedures for consideration.  

In other business

  • A revised 2023-24 code of conduct was approved after staff shared concerns about attendance, behavior and dress code. Officials say the dress code will be enforced, attendance interventions were revised, and elementary and secondary behavior matrices are now aligned. The code can be found in the board section of the website.
  • The board approved a new $10 full-day rate per preschool session and continued its $5 half-day rate. All elementary schools now offer both options. Meals are included. Tuition is waived if the preschooler is eligible for free and reduced services and/or has an Individual Education Plan.
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A version of this article appeared in the July 19 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Millicent Martin Emery is a reporter and editor for the Western Wayne News.