Grant puts Visalia police on middle school campuses


Officer J.D. Cleek started his new position at Valley Oak Middle school. The former patrol officer is transitioning to become a youth services officer, thanks to a new grant given to the Visalia Police Department. The grant helps pay for three youth services officers for middle school campuses.

School administrator Todd Oto is thrilled.

"The police presence just represents a positive point for connection for kids and law enforcement and a situation where a kid gets into trouble or starts to get into trouble can be corrected early on," Oto said.

Officer Cleek spends lunch time interacting with the 7th graders at Valley Oak Middle School. He hopes to get to know them, earn their trust and help mentor them.

"You try and learn names and personalities and different kids will come up to you and tell you different things and so we just basically want to build friendships with all the kids," Cleek said.

All four of Visalia's high schools have youth service officers. The district's four middle schools had youth services officers, but they were all cut three years ago because of budget constraints.

Sgt. Ozzie Dominguez said during a time when more students are getting involved in gang violence at a younger age, the police presence at middle schools is invaluable.

"We can spot these trends right as they're starting out. If you see a child going down the wrong path the earlier you can reach them the better we don't want to wait until they reach high school," Dominguez said.

That is exactly what officer Cleek hopes to do.

The grant that helps pay for the officers lasts three years and then the district will have to pay for the fourth year. So for at least the next four years the youth services officers will be on middle school campuses.

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