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School Probation Officer On Duty
Once you get over her youthful looks and vitality and note the uniform and gun on her hip, you must agree that Emily Herrera is a perfect fit in the new probation officer post for Riverbank High and other local schools.

A 1995 Riverbank High graduate, she combines law enforcement skills with an intimate knowledge of the town and its residents and the ability to relate to students who are not that much younger than herself.

But the job is a new one, an experiment for Stanislaus County, and tricky.

Riverbank Unified School District used to contract with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Office for the part-time services of a School Resource Officer. He had a patrol deputy's regular duties but responded to a local campus to deal with specific incidents and problem students - after the event.

Now the District has arranged with the Probation Department to provide a fulltime officer, based at RHS but serving all the district schools, who will get to know the students, counsel them and their families, and concentrate on prevention and intervention - before they get into trouble.

The District pays half her salary and the Probation Department the rest on the theory that dealing with potential youthful offenders on campus will save the Probation Department and law enforcement in general a lot of work later. Probation among other duties runs Juvenile Hall, which is often overcrowded.

Herrera wears the badge, gun and full uniform of a probation officer complete with radio, baton and other equipment and has powers of arrest.

The gun, she admits, attracts attention.

"The students think it's cool," she said. "At the elementary schools, I get asked a lot of questions about it. Is it real, for instance? But I go to students' homes a lot. And in today's world, I have no idea what may happen."

As a probation officer, Herrera has the advantage of knowing a student's history in the courts, for example, besides their school. But in her new job she concentrates on duties like cutting truancy and ensuring students attend school.

"I'm interested in the students and their relationships at all levels. I get along with people. I feel I'm winning their trust. When I call a home, I sometimes have parents persuading their kids to talk to me even when the kids are reluctant."

She is eager to stop disciplinary problems before they escalate and lead to the possibility of expulsion.