School Resource Officer Jennifer Larsen keeps St. Charles schools safe

St. Charles Police Officer Jennifer Larsen, the school resource officer at St. Charles East High School, greets students as they arrive at the school one recent morning.

Jennifer Larsen is a school resource officer in St. Charles who does an extensive amount of community work in her free time.

Larsen said she knew she wanted to be a police officer when she was in high school and a deputy with the Kane County Sheriff’s Office was a substitute teacher in one of her classes and really connected with her.

Before law enforcement, Larsen worked at a children’s museum, where she found her love for educating, but said she couldn’t see herself working in a classroom.

When she was in college, Larsen started her career in law enforcement as a park service officer in Naperville. After graduating, she began working at the Kendall County Sheriff’s Office in 2012 before joining the St. Charles police force in 2015.

She said her career as an SRO felt like a calling. She knew it would be a career where she could make an impact and working with youth and people with disabilities always has been her passion.

Larsen said she chose St. Charles because it has a dual program where SROs are part of the juvenile investigations division. St. Charles Police Department cases involving juveniles get assigned to SROs for follow-up investigations and interviews.

When the juvenile investigations division has cases with young people who have witnessed a violent crime or are victims of personal crimes, they often work with the Illinois Child Advocacy Center and the Department of Children and Family Services, which have victim-sensitive training and offer more specialized victim services.

Each morning, Larsen is at St. Charles schools to greet students and ensure everything is running smoothly. Throughout the day, she monitors the halls, cafeterias and coffee shops in the school during lunch periods, watching for contraband, making sure everyone is safe and just being visible to students.

She spends most of her time at St. Charles East High School, but often visits other schools in the district that don’t have their own SRO or when another SRO has the day off.

Besides security, Larsen provides St. Charles schools with emergency training for staff, hosts lockdown drills in the schools and tries to be a resource for students however she can. She said she tries to meet as many students as she can and connect and engage with them whenever possible.

St. Charles Police Officer Jennifer Larsen is the school resource officer at St. Charles East High School.

In a few classes at St. Charles East High School each semester, Larsen is a guest teacher. She teaches about substance use in a health class, hosts a Q&A about search and seizure in government classes and helps teach driver education courses.

Larsen said the most rewarding part of the job is seeing kids who were in a bad way turn themselves around. She said when kids come to tell her about their concerns in the school or community, it’s a good feeling because she knows the relationship and trust they’ve built has led to those confidences.

“I think with juveniles and the differently abled, there might be apprehension interacting with law enforcement. They need people to advocate for them as well.”

—  Jennifer Larsen, school resource officer in St. Charles

“I see kids who are really struggling when they come in after freshman and sophomore year and then by the time they are juniors and seniors, between your guidance and school staff’s guidance, it flips a switch,” Larsen said.

When she isn’t on duty, Larsen spends a lot of time helping people with disabilities through events such as the Torch Run, Cop on a Rooftop, the Polar Plunge and several other fundraisers throughout the year. She said her involvement started with her uncle who was a competitor in the Special Olympics. She started organizing events when she was a park service officer.

A Polar Plunge to raise money for Special Olympics Illinois was held in Ferson Creek in St. Charles on Sunday, March 3, 2024.

Larsen said those events are important because they show people that law enforcement cares about them and shows the human side of the badge.

“I think with juveniles and the differently abled there might be apprehension interacting with law enforcement,” Larsen said. “They need people to advocate for them as well. I like that it shows them that we’re human just like them and that we’re there for them. It’s just so rewarding to see how excited they are to see you there.”

Larsen said her goals for the future are to continue to grow the fundraising events and create more youth outreach opportunities and programs in the community.