New School Resource Officer Thomas McMillan is pictured on the far right, along with his other fellow members of the Hot Springs Police Department, including, from left, Office Administrator Charlotte Shively, Police Captain Phillip Shively, Officers Jack Peterson, Darcie Engel and LexyJo Deneke. Not pictured is Police Chief Jennifer Winscot, who said the department is still currently seeking two additional full-time officers.
By Marcus Heerdt
HOT SPRINGS – Thomas McMillan is the new and first ever school resource officer (SRO) within the Hot Springs School District (HSSD) and began his duties at the school on Tuesday, March 1.
“This has been the end of a long, long road,” said HSSD Superintendent Dennis Fischer. “The school board and the city have been working hard on this and we are excited to have Officer McMillan as our SRO to provide extra services to our students and staff.”
Nationally, SROs are becoming more prevalent in the public education system. According to the National Center for Education Statistics in Washington, D.C., one percent of schools reported having an officer on site in 1975, but by 2018, that number rose to 58 percent. The National Association of School Resource Officers estimates that there are currently between 14,000 and 20,000 SROs serving in the nation’s schools.
McMillan is no stranger to the area. Previous to his new SRO position he served with the Fall River County Sheriff’s Office as the deputy assigned to cover Edgemont.
“There are certain points in the law enforcement career when you ask yourself why you do the job,” McMillan said. “When I was young, a teacher changed my life for the better and I also learned a lot when I worked with kids at a correctional facility. I saw the SRO position advertised and something attracted me to it. Looking into it, I realized that everyone involved had the same goals…to get these kids to thrive.”
McMillan had an interesting path to South Dakota three decades ago. With family in both locations, he spent his childhood living between New York City and Miami. His father was a detective in Broward County, Fla., and later worked at the federal level with the Drug Enforcement Administration. McMillan said that he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and begin a career in law enforcement.
McMillan said that in the 1990s, he was traveling across the country and on his way to Anchorage, Alaska, to become an Alaska State Trooper. But when visiting South Dakota, he thought it was the place to settle down and “ended up staying.”
In addition to previously working with the Fall River County Sheriff’s Office, McMillan was employed as a correctional officer in Pennington County, a police officer with the cities of Martin and Box Elder, and has also served in the military with the Coast Guard.
McMillan said that in his first two weeks on the job, he has already made meaningful connections with students of all grade levels.
“My ultimate goal is to be somebody for these kids who they can turn to and seek assistance from,” McMillan said. “It’s very important that we keep these kids out of the court system. You have to think in a mode where they do deserve a second chance. Bonds and relationships have already been forming in my second week of work and I am pleasantly surprised. This is all brand new for everyone and I am loving it so far. I have received warm welcomes from both students and staff members.”
Creating McMillan’s SRO position has been a joint effort between the City of Hot Springs and the Hot Springs School District. McMillan is officially a City of Hot Springs employee who is based at the school Monday through Thursday during the school year. He also plans to attend school functions such as sporting events on the weekends. However, if any emergencies arise in the city or an officer needs backup, McMillan will depart the school and assist at the incident site. Additionally, during summer break McMillan will be a regular officer working with the Hot Springs Police Department (HSPD).
“Officer McMillan is a great addition to the police department and school and it’s going to be a great program for everybody,” said Hot Springs Chief of Police Jennifer Winscot.
McMillan is just one of a few new hires within the HSPD.
The department recently added LexyJo Deneke as a full-time police officer and Charlotte Shively as the office administrator.
Deneke is a Rapid City native who has a criminal justice degree from Dakota Wesleyan University. She previously worked at the Black Hills Children’s Home and said that she has enjoyed all of the support she has already received in her first two weeks on the job with the HSPD.
Shively has lived in Hot Springs for more than 10 years, and is the wife of HSPD Captain Phillip Shively. In addition to her duties at the police department, she has been and will remain a crew member of the Hot Springs Ambulance Service.
Other current HSPD employees include police officers Jack Peterson and Darcie Engel, and reserve officers Ryan Walz and Mark Heyn.
According to Winscot, the department is still currently seeking two additional full-time police officers.