One wall of Dee Patterson’s office at Evergreen High School is filled with windows offering an expansive view of the area adjacent the main entrance.
“I like to see who’s coming in,” Patterson says.
The wall opposite all those windows is painted deep blue and thickly covered with hand-written well-wishes, most of them drawn in gold ink by colleagues, friends and family, and, mostly, students. Patterson’s crowded “Wall of Fame” offers hundreds of daily reminders that she’s exactly where she belongs.
“This is my dream job,” smiles Patterson, a Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy for 12 years and EHS’s school resource officer (SRO) for nine of them. “It’s not always a fun job, but it is my dream job.”
You couldn’t have convinced her of that back when she first applied for a badge at the age of 20. Born and raised in Seattle, she’d always had an interest in law enforcement. As a confident and independent-minded young woman charting a new course in southern California, she tried to hire on with the San Diego Police Department.
“I made it as far as the interview,” Patterson says. “The interviewer said that someday I would be a good police officer, but that I had an immature view of what police work was all about. He thought I still had some growing up to do.”
If those words were hard to hear at the time, Patterson would come to hear the truth in them loud and clear.
“I had a very gung-ho, names-and-numbers attitude,” she explains. “I was too young to understand that police work is about people. Respecting, protecting and serving people.”
Patterson met her husband, Kirk, in San Diego; and the couple moved to Colorado not long after their son, Tim, was born. “We didn’t want to raise a kid in California,” she explains, simply. They settled in Evergreen, enrolled Tim in the local schools, and Patterson set aside official service for the civilian kind. She volunteered with the Red Cross, with youth sports, and she donated countless hours to her son’s schools. And when Tim joined the EHS marching band, Dee and Kirk fell right in step.
“We were geeky band parents,” laughs the Hiwan Hills resident.
Patterson’s interest in law enforcement was rekindled in 1997, the year her youngest brother died. That shattering loss sparked a desire to do more for her community; and when she saw an article in the local paper detailing volunteer opportunities with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO), she soon found herself serving her community as, among other things, a volunteer victim’s advocate. The work could be incredibly intense but also wonderfully fulfilling.
“It didn’t take long to figure that I wanted to wear the badge.”
Patterson enrolled in JCSO’s volunteer reserve program in 1998, throwing herself into the unglamorous trench-work customarily performed by reserve officers – traffic control, surveillance, extraditions, hospital watches and assisting in emergency situations like the mammoth Hayman Fire. As a reserve officer Patterson initiated a program called Paul 95 whereby reserve officers could be called upon to transport offenders already arrested and processed, freeing level-one deputies to quickly return to more pressing duties. She was named JCSO’s Reserve Officer of the Year in 2000, and soon after enrolled to become a full-fledged deputy.
A serious injury incurred during training very nearly de-railed her long-delayed career before it had properly started. Patterson spent a year in rehab, during which time the department kept her busy at duties suitable to her recovery, including a light-duty hitch at the Jeffco jail and, to her immense satisfaction, a stretch in the dispatch center.
“Dispatchers are my heroes,” says Patterson. “They talk to people in crisis. They’re great people doing a critical job that most people never think about.”
Patterson returned to the JCSO academy in 2003 and earned the badge she’d worked so hard to wear. The following year she became Evergreen High School’s SRO.
“It’s why I joined the department,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to work with kids, and this gives me an opportunity to teach them about how the choices they make can impact their future.”
As a patrol deputy, Patterson’s beat is the halls and grounds of EHS; and her public are its roughly 1,050 students. In practice, she’s also the tactful liaison between the school and the surrounding neighborhoods that are inevitably affected by proximity to so much sometimes-reckless youthful energy.
Patterson is a CPR/first aid instructor for JCSO and an advisor for the department’s Youth Explorer Post. Patterson’s emergency-medical skills have saved more than one life, and she’s got the writing on the wall to prove it. And while she spends most of every 40-hour work-week at EHS, she’s always happy to give presentations to classes at other area schools.
For what it’s worth, Patterson’s most common disciplinary function is putting the brakes on teenage lead-foots. In every case she gives the young speeders a choice – a traffic citation or a three-page paper on the dangers of speeding and the reasons for speed enforcement.
“If I give them a ticket, their parents are the ones who pay for it with higher insurance premiums,” she explains. “If the student has to write a paper, they have to think about it and, hopefully, learn something about respect, and about the impact they have on their community. I’ve been doing that for 10 years, and in all that time only three kids didn’t hand in their paper.”
Evergreen isn’t Detroit, and aside from the occasional fist-fight, minor-in-possession rap and petty-theft beef, being the SRO at EHS is largely about being available to both the kids and their parents and doing everything in her power to maintain a safe, calm and supportive learning environment.
“I’m here as a resource to help the kids, as well as to enforce laws,” Patterson says. “It’s important for the community to know that we have to work together. If you have questions, call me. That’s what I’m here for.”