SROs prepare for new school year

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, August 1, 2023

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As kids, teachers, administrators and other school staff prepare for the start of the school year, another group readies to return to the halls of education. School Resource Officers, or SROs, as they are often referred to, are also preparing for another year in schools.

For most, it’s a rewarding job getting to help protect the next generation as they become adults. It can also be a dangerous one as school shootings seem to increase nationally every year.

Becoming an SRO is strictly voluntary, at least locally, said Lt. Monica Peterson. It takes a special mindset to work with kids, she said.

Peterson oversees the SROs for the department, which currently has five officers stationed in local middle and high schools. After the Uvalde, Texas shooting, the Troup County School System approved placing officers in elementary schools as well, requesting five additional SROs but those have been delayed due to difficulty in hiring new officers. A recent $8,000 raise for LPD officers aims to help with that.

“Every single SRO put in for it because they want to work with children. It’s not something that you just get put into. We actually all wanted to work with kids,” Peterson said.

Having a good relationship with students, but also maintaining authority, can be difficult if you don’t have the right mindset, Peterson said.

“It takes a really open person to be able to work with kids,” Peterson said. “It’s almost just like the same thing that teachers do. They work with kids. They discipline kids. They teach kids, and they still have a regular very good relationship with kids. [SROs] do the same thing.”

Peterson said SROs go to training throughout the summer on school safety and different classes to work with kids.

“We do training on things like L.E.A.D., which is Law Enforcement Against Drugs, and they to two programs, Too Good for Violence and Too Good for Drugs, and they study throughout the summer as well,“ Peterson said.

The SROs also recently participated in active shooter training, which the whole department regularly takes part in.

While preventing and stopping active shooter incidents might be the impetus for getting more SROs in schools, it’s only a tiny fraction of what they do.

Peterson said their main job is to be a liaison between police and students.

“When an officer works with children, it seems to close the gap between what kids believe we do and what they see on TV. It helps us establish a relationship, and it makes it easier for them to get to know us and for us to get to know them,” Peterson said.

“We try to have mentorships with the kids. We try to establish programs to work with kids. Believe it or not, most of the time you see officers in the schools is not about actually enforcing laws,” she said.

The friendships that SROs develop with kids can often provide mentoring that students are lacking.

“We actually sit down and get to know the kids. We try to fill in the gaps in what they’re missing. The friendship that gets developed between the kids and the officers, sometimes that’s the most precious thing that we ever can do,” Peterson said.

“We are very blessed to work in a community that allows us to work with children, allows us into the schools and accepts us. Not everybody can do that. I would hope that our relationship continues as long as possible,” Peterson said.

Police Chief Garrett Fiveash recently announced that around half of the 18 vacant officer positions have or are in the works to be filled, so hopefully LPD can soon begin to fill the five SRO positions requested by TCSS.

“As soon as we get more positions filled in our patrol, we will be trying to fill more elementary schools. We’re really looking forward to being able to do so and are excited about the prospect of that,” Peterson said.