‘He’s there to protect us’ – SRO Ted Eichholz
EAGLE-VAIL – To untrained eyes, the knot of boys was just a bunch of Battle Mountain High School students hanging out in the lobby in front of the gym, but Officer Ted Eichholz knew better. He knew the boys didn’t like each other and, as he walked up to them, it became clear – no one was smiling. “Julian. You all right?” he called out to one of the boys.Half a dozen heads swiveled around to look at Eichholz. The group quickly began to break up.”Yeah, I’m all right,” junior Julian Quintana answered defiantly. He swaggered past Eichholz, a little closer than necessary to the officer, chin up, shoulders back and glaring. Eichholz had a hunch it wasn’t over yet, but he continued on his rounds. As a school resource officer, part of his job is to patrol the school, paying special attention to the hidden areas where rebellious students gather to smoke cigarettes or make-out. Eichholz climbed a little-used stairway leading from the gym to the back of the library.
“I’ve come up here and smelled smoke or found kids sleeping,” he said. He was halfway up the stairs when he heard the metal rolling door of the cafeteria rattle. The noise was dismissible, but Eichholz knew the confrontation that started in the lobby wasn’t over yet. Someone had just been shoved into the door. Eichholz quickly retreated down the steps to find a couple boys in a scuffle, a couple more trying to hold them back. Seeing Eichholz, Quintana cried out, “I didn’t do nothing.”‘Just cuff them all’Quintana was obviously outnumbered, but what will happen to all the boys involved isn’t for Eichholz to decide. Although he’s a police officer, he doesn’t deal with disciplining students unless teachers and administrators ask him for help.
Eichholz put Quintana in the care of another teacher while he led the rest of the boys to the office and explained what he’d seen to Vice Principal Anthony Barela. “Oh, just cuff them all and haul them out,” Barela joked, ushering the boys into the office.Eichholz’s been getting a lot of handcuff jokes lately – ever since Avon cop Dave Wineman handcuffed a 10-year-old Avon Elementary School student and took him home for getting into a schoolyard scrap. But he’s brushing off the jokes and going about his work. As the only school resource officer in the county – since Wineman’s departure – Eichholz travels around the county every day visiting elementaries, middle schools and high schools. “A very small portion of my job is law enforcement,” Eichholz said. “I do a lot of education and counseling too.”For the younger set, Eichholz goes into classrooms to host fingerprinting classes. In middle schools, he teaches life skills, which blossoms into a personal safety program in high school, teaching teens about how to set their own limits in relationships and with drugs and alcohol. Wherever Eichholz is, he’s on call should a law enforcement emergency arise in a school, but that’s seldom, he said.Battle Mountain Principal Brian Hester said Eichholz has been an asset assuring the school stays safe, even attending school sporting events and dances.
‘They weren’t trying to avoid me’But Eichholz prefers to focus on the other aspects of his job, like the connection he’s making with the kids. “I’d like to think I have an effect on the kids,” he said. “Anytime they ask me a question, I feel better, like I’m a resource for them.”Like the other day, when a student approached him to ask about tee-pee-ing and it’s repercussions, or last year, when Eichholz went to a fun park in Denver for Project Graduation and the kids wouldn’t let him off the go-carts. “They were saying, ‘Officer Ted, stay, I want to race you.’ They weren’t trying to avoid me,” he said. Eichholz said, ironically, he has the closest relationships with kids who have had run-ins with the law, while he and other students pass like ships in the night. “He’s really quiet,” said freshman Haley Martin.
Sophomore Ryan Smith agreed saying he “minds his own business” for the most part.”But it’s good to know he’s there to protect us,” Smith said. Despite the friendly sentiments from the students, Eichholz knows he has his critics. “There are always going to be people who don’t like us around,” he said. “But I get more positive feedback than negative from parents. And the kids are generally nice, and that’s what it’s all about. In this job you have to have a strong desire to educate and a love of kids.”Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or email@example.com. Vail, Colorado