Deputy takes on new role at GHEC

Chris Gerhardt

GRANADA — In addition to a new superintendent and principal this year, Granada-Huntley-East Chain has a school resource officer for the first time.

Deputy Chris Gerhardt of the Martin County Sheriff’s Office serves in the role. A native of Fairmont, he has been with the Sheriff’s Office since 2014, beginning as a corrections officer.

Gerhardt graduated from Fairmont High School in 2003, then attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth, triple-majoring in criminology, Spanish and communications.

“My father was a cop and he was the sheriff in Martin County,” Gerhardt said. “After 31 years, he retired. He’d always joke and say, ‘Be anything in the world you want, just don’t be a cop.’ So I went to school to be a music teacher.”

“Two years into it, I couldn’t shake the cop bug so I switched my major to criminology,” Gerhardt explained.

He did some research on what police department was paying the most in the country and applied to the Henderson Police Department near Las Vegas. It was the second-highest paid department at the time.

A few weeks after he graduated from UMD, Gerhardt moved to Nevada and attended the Southern Desert Regional Police Academy for six months, paid for by the Henderson Police Department. He worked for the department for six years.

Gerhardt said Henderson was the fastest-growing city in the nation for about 10 years, but the growth brought a lot of problems. There were a lot of wealthy areas near low-income areas.

“I learned a lot about gangs and violent personal problems,” he said. “It’s ‘sin city’ so they were a target of terrorism. One of my goals as an officer was to be a crisis hostage negotiator. I was able to do that within three years of starting.”

While working in Las Vegas, Gerhardt met his wife, Ashley, at a football game. The couple had three children while living there.

“My focus changed from a career focus to a family focus and that’s why I wanted to bring them home to Fairmont as soon as possible so I could start my kids in the Fairmont Schools system,” Gerhardt said.

The position of SRO was something that interested him. He applied and was selected.

“I wanted to be a music teacher in college,” he said. “To be able to work in the schools was the best opportunity to do all of my passions. To be able to teach, teach people about law enforcement and just let them know there’s a person behind the badge.”

He began his new job the last week of August. His role as SRO is a full-time position, with a three-year contract between the county and the school. During the summer, Gerhardt will work as a deputy.

“Consistency is incredibly important in my opinion. To be able to develop long-term relationships and also to see the impact you have on these kids and to see them graduate,” Gerhardt said.

A new office was built for him in the media center, but it may be difficult to find him there.

“My goal was to rarely be in my office but to be interacting with the kids,” he said. “If I can help 20 of them at once, that’s more impactful for them to gain my trust and get to know me.”

Gerhardt is working on several projects. So far, he has done a full exterior site assessment to check for any potential risks. He plans to do an interior risk assessment soon.

Gerhardt wears his uniform every day except for Fridays when he dresses more casually. He always has his duty belt on and his squad car with him. Gerhardt will be able to help out not just at the school but in the community as well.

“If there’s something that’s happening in that area, he can respond until another deputy gets there and then he can go back to the school,” said Sheriff Jeff Markquart.

Markquart said that since Granada does not have its own police department, it made sense that the school’s request for a SRO would go to the Sheriff’s Office.

The school board had been interested in getting a school resource officer for well over a year. Former Superintendent Mandy Fletcher was instrumental in the process. Several months ago, the county and school board came to an agreement of a 66/33 split to pay the cost of the full-time deputy, with the total coming to about $108,000. The school is paying 66 percent of the cost.

While he is just a month into his new role, Gerhardt is most looking forward to being a role model and positive influence on the students.

“I want to be someone a student can talk to when they feel like they can’t talk to anyone else,” he said. “I want to be able to provide some of my own life experiences and help them get through whatever they’re going through.”