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D.A.R.E.-ing to Care

story by Katharine Lotze

Officer Sean Schlachter hardly ever uses his “Officer of the Year” parking spot in the lot at the Owensboro Police Department.

“I’m just not into the notoriety of things,” he says. “That’s just not my style.”

Officer Sean, as he’s affectionately known because of his tough-to-pronounce last name, won “Officer of the Year” in June 2013. The award came as a big surprise. He works as one of the department’s D.A.R.E. officers. D.A.R.E. is a national organization with a mission to teach students good decision-making skills to help them lead safe and healthy lives.

“I was like OK — it’s cool to be nominated, but it’s going to go to a patrol officer,” he says. He set a precedent with his win, and it was in no small part due to his close relationship with the students he teaches.

“He loves working with the kids,” says Sgt. Richard Glenn, Sean’s immediate supervisor. “It’s just a culmination of everything he’s done so well for years.”

He celebrated his 17th year as an officer in Owensboro in October and says he always knew he wanted a law enforcement career.

He works more as a public relations officer for the department than a patrol officer. Besides the D.A.R.E. program, he and his partner often are asked to speak to community groups about safety and police matters.
“We’re kind of the jack-of-all trades,” he says.

Officer Sean spends 30 hours a week in classrooms throughout Daviess County. On his busiest days, he teaches eight classes.

“They’re not angels by any means, but they’re great kids,” he says.

And the kids think he’s pretty great, too.

When they catch sight of him in the hallway or the door of their classroom, their faces light up.

“I think you’re doing a good job of teaching kids safety,” Terrance Meyer, 7, tells Officer Sean during an after-school visit to Newton Parrish Elementary.

Many students grow up with him teaching their D.A.R.E. classes in the odd numbered grades, and Character Counts, a similar program, in the even years.

“Our kids think of police officers as intimidating, but he’s approachable,” says Amy Bellamy, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Owensboro Middle School. “Not like they’d expect a police officer to be.”

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Officer Sean Schlachter laughs along with a pedestrian at the Owensboro HealthPark 5K Run on a rainy morning.

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Owensboro Catholic Middle School seventh graders keep their eyes on Officer Sean, as he is affectionately known, while he introduces D.A.R.E.'s new Keeping it R.E.A.L. program to the class. Keeping It R.E.A.L is an update to the D.A.R.E. program that shows real students refusing, explaining, avoiding and leaving potentially harmful situations.

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Officer Sean explains D.A.R.E.'s new Keeping It R.E.A.L. program to Owensboro Catholic Middle School seventh graders on their first day of the class.

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Newton Parrish Elementary students greet and hug Officer Sean in the cafeteria after school.

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After finishing a class at Owensboro Middle School, Officer Sean jokes with Wil Green, 13. If Wil stays on track, "He’ll be one of us someday," Officer Sean says.

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Officer Sean Schlachter is pushed on a swing by Newton Parrish Elementary School children, the age group that served as Officer Sean's inspiration to become a D.A.R.E. officer. "That was my in --- the little kids. That's who I was doing it for."

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Officer Sean Schlachter -- known affectionately as Officer Sean because of his difficult-to-pronounce last name -- stands in the hallway of Owensboro Middle School as students pass between classes.

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Alli Hardison, 7, shares a hug and smile with Officer Sean at Newton Parrish Elementary School.

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Barbara Johnson, 14, high-fives police Officer Sean Schlacter in the hallway of Owensboro Middle School between classes.

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Officer Sean Schlachter visits with Khyree Dulin, 2, the nephew of a former D.A.R.E. student, Kristen Dillon, at the Owensboro Catholic High School district football game versus Union County High School.

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Officer Sean becomes Dad as he picks up daughter Emily, 11, from school. One of their four dogs, Hershey, came along for the ride. Emily had to adjust to her dad’s local celebrity status. "A kid would walk up to me, say, ‘Are you Officer Sean?’ and give me a hug. My daughter would get jealous," he said. "It was like having a jealous girlfriend." Officer Sean also has a son, Erik, 14.