VIDEO: To protect and serve

Published 10:51 am Thursday, August 28, 2008

Mark Walski, liaison officer at Ellis Middle School, says some kids think of him in red and white — but not the familiar Austin Packers colors.

“The kids like seeing the police officer in the schools,” he said. “You’re kind of like Santa Claus.”

Walski, an officer with the Austin Police Department, is one of two officers serving double duty both on the streets and in the halls.

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In October 2007, Walski replaced Kevin Sederquest, who was moved to Austin High School after Travis Hinckley was promoted to detective.

An APD officer since 2000 and Ellis golf coach, Walski now has yet another responsibility as activities director at the middle school, an additional job he begins this year.

“My job is to make sure there’s coaches, preparing all the sports, scheduling,” he said. “It’s all put together by the AD.”

Walski said his role as a school officer really began on the stage rather than in hallways.

His wife, Julie, an eighth-grade English teacher and play director, needed help designing sets.

“I have a little background in art, so I got some money for her from the police officers association,” he said.

Walski eventually moved from volunteer set designer to liaison officer, a position he says is actually quite similar to working a typical shift with the APD — the perpetrators are just younger.

“Ellis is a very safe school,” Walski explained. “The one of two incidents you hear about are because it’s in the paper.

“They’re not bad people,” he said of some students. “They just make bad choices.”

Like Walski, Sederquest is an APD officer who has also been active educating children in Junior Police for second-graders as well as Police Explorers, a youth organization that allows young people ages 14 to 20 the opportunity to learn about law enforcement first-hand. Walski and Sederquest are close friends; Walski is a godfather of Sederquest’s 2-year-old daughter.

A father of three with a passion for kids, Sederquest has coached B Squad baseball for two years.

“I thought it would be really interesting getting into a school environment,” he said, and applied for the Ellis position. “It was a transition for me, working 10 years on the streets.

“Every day’s different,” Sederquest explained. “Some days I can be busy; some weeks I can be busy. Overall, it’s being visible in the school.”

In addition to patrolling the building and maintaining a rapport with students, he speaks to criminal justice and health classes.

Sederquest said the most frequent crime committed at AHS is theft, particularly with all the new “gadgets,” like iPods and cell phones. Crimes like assaults and drugs are less common.

“A wide variety, but mostly thefts,” he said.

Sederquest said that often times, he becomes almost a counselor or mentor to high school students, particularly those interested in law enforcement.

“I had one come and talk to me quite extensively about programs across the state,” he said.

The two liaison officers agree that regardless of whether they are patrolling via APD squad car during the summer or walking the halls during the school year, the overall goal is the same — to keep people safe.

“Primarily 98 percent of my job is dealing with kids and juvenile law, and I enjoy doing that,” Sederquest said.

“Obviously, the hours are really great,” he said, comparing the 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. lifestyle to the “cop beat” he’s become accustomed to over summer break.

“This morning was a little rough getting up at 6 a.m.,” he admitted with a laugh on Wednesday.