Carroll County School Resource Officers (SRO) Mike Combs, Kevin Kemp and “Gator” King feel the program has been positive locally because of similarities… and differences of the academic “beats” the three veteran officers now routinely patrol.
Kemp said there are different levels of SRO environments with students ranging from Pre-Kindergarten to high school. King noted a routine morning can begin with breakfast with kindergarten students and the inherent attraction between jelly and a uniform.
“I see us as a middleman,” said Combs, who naturally enough, serves at the middle school. “We on one hand are here with PhD’s who have dealt with issues (such as drugs or domestic abuse) they may not have ever encountered but we have. We relay information between doctors to teachers and to families.”
Kemp said one unique part of his beat is where he serves as a parking monitor for student drivers. He routinely patrols the areas to be sure parking permits are valid and issues school citations which are handled by high school staffers.
“This is two-fold. It teaches students responsibility. This works just like it does in the real world,” Kemp said. “The school uses it for that purpose.”
Kemp also is responsible for coordinating with the administration, athletic director and security for athletic events, making sure an appropriate number of officers are on hand.
Kemp, King and Combs all three routinely help staff and faculty by speaking in classrooms on a variety of topics, such as safety and drug abuse prevention. The three agreed it takes a special type of personality to be an effective SRO, and the ability to combine patience with the uniform to defuse situations involving angry parents or students in a “soft” way.
Critical to avoiding iron-willed approaches yielding the “pipeline from school to prison” critique of officers in schools is an officer’s ability to model control of themselves which children emulate. School Superintendent Dr. Strader Blankenship was serving as an administrator in the late 1990s when the SRO program began locally.
“Right from the beginning we were very clear about who’s role was what. SROs didn’t step in school-related issues but would be on hand for legal issues,” said Strader. “I always saw the opposite (from being pushed into the legal system) from the kids relating to the SROs. Our SROs have frankly been our best counselors. They listen and sometimes give advice. It’s very personality driven. The SROs we had and do have are very personable.”
He said the system’s children are special and consequently there are not a lot of problems seen in other districts, which helps Carroll County stay that way, much to the benefit of the entire community.
“Our ability to communicate effectively between administration, parents and students is so important,” said Kemp. “You have to keep everyone calm, on the same page. We also have the duty to inform them on the consequences of the laws we enforce. What we are demonstrating to kids, for instance, is if I can control myself, you can, too.”
The three said their presence in the room can sometimes ensure more positive problem solving as someone other than administration or faculty.
“We’re being a friend to these students. It’s not being the police officer and the citizen,” said Kemp. “They know that we care for them just like their parents do, and we are there for them. That’s what we want them to know.
All three said their young charges know they would lay down their life for them and stressed it takes the right officer with the right temperament and an absolute love for children to do the job justice. Combs said he typically visits classrooms after lock down drills to be sure children understand what the practice is about. He said the younger students’ concern is no one is there to protect them. Often, they offer to help when they are older.
“You hear people say, aww… kids these days,” said Combs. “Deep down they are good kids. They want to do good. We are very aware of problems we don’t have here other school districts do have. That says a lot about our community and its families. We’re blessed compared to a lot of places. You build a rapport and they care for us, too.”
King said this was the concept from the beginning for Sheriff J.B. Gardner, who once served as an SRO and had a good idea of what personalities would do best for the positions.
“Sheriff Gardner felt it was important to get to them at an early stage,” said King. “I deal with building friendly relationships, showing them we’re not the boogie man, because they could have very well been the one who locked up mom or dad when something went very wrong.”
The trio agreed serving as an SRO gives them a chance to really make a lasting difference in the lives of children. Combs said getting a wave from students or having someone come back from college and remember them is a great feeling of accomplishment made possible by team work.
David Broyles may be reached at 276-779-4013 or on Twitter@CarrollNewsDave.