Local schools rely on school resource officers for safety and support
By Beth Taylor
Providing building security, counseling students and assisting school administrators are all part of a day’s work for school resource officers in Hamilton Southeastern schools. Whether diffusing internal conflicts or preventing external threats, The SRO’s role is to keep students safe.
Both Fishers High School and Hamilton Southeastern High School have one assigned merit Fishers police officer in the school building at all times. Other SROs on the team float among the schools in the district. “The SRO team is like a specialty, like the traffic unit, or a SWAT team—we’re the school team,” said Lt. Mike Johnson.
Although the district’s SRO officers have varied backgrounds, the common interest they share is taking care of kids. All are parents and most have had children attend the local schools.
“You are the police officer for several thousand students and a couple hundred employees. On any given day, you work a couple of thefts, complaints from auto accidents to thefts, batteries and then things that happen outside of school, especially social media problems,” said Officer Kevin Sutton, HSE SRO.
Sutton said because the SROs see the kids often throughout the day, they develop a relationship with the students and that relationship building is key to the SRO’s role. “They feel comfortable coming to us with problems, whether at home or school. Sometimes they need a role model or someone to talk to,” said Sutton. Students might also alert SROs to friends who might need help.
“We adhere to the SRO TRIAD, which is at here-pronged approach. There’s the law enforcement component, the informal counselor, and a teacher; I stress that although we do have to do the law enforcement stuff, it’s the hat we like to wear the least,” said Lt. Mike Johnson.
Some SROs work in the classroom setting. As a DARE instructor, Officer Alicia Ahnert spends time in the classroom. “One semester I’m teaching and the semester I’m a full-time SRO,” said Ahnert. “When I’m teaching, I spend the entire day at the classrooms. The DARE program starts in fifth grade in all schools, and we do programs in seventh and eighth grade.
The impact of social media has added challenges to the officers’ jobs. “Social media blew up in 2005, so the students in the schools grew up with it. Parents are learning at a slower place and have to play catch up,” said Sgt. Matt Simmonds
The SROs in all schools address social media bullying more than the physical bullying that most parents remember. “Kids send an attachment to a whole group of people with the intent to embarrass somebody—that’s bullying,” said Simmonds. All schools treat bullying offenses on social media the same as they do for in-person incidents. The consequences don’t change.
Although experimenting with drugs and alcohol hasn’t increased, the officers think that the proliferation in the types and the ways kids use drugs has changed. “My belief is that in all our schools we have amazing kids who are doing good things most of the time, but there are kids who make poor choices and we do deal with that from time to time,” said Johnson.
The SROs also work to prepare students in case of an external threat to the school. “The assistant chief, captain and myself have been involved in the all of the new construction (on the two highs schools) before the turn of the first shovel. Kids’ safety is thought of from day one of the project,” said Johnson.
In some older schools, entryways have been reconstructed to include a second set of doors, which force visitors to come into the office to check in. “Almost every school has been set up that way within the last 18 months,” said Simmonds. After the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, that project moved from back to the front of this list.” The officers also document whether all lights are lit, if shrubs need to be trimmed from the windows to help deter criminals.
“When Sandy Hook happened, everyone wanted to know what we were going to do to protect our kids; we were already doing it,” Simmonds said. All of the SROs are certified ALICE instructors. (ALICE stands for Alert Lockdown Inform Counter Evacuate.) Rather than a lockdown-only solution, ALICE is a civilian response to an active shooter. Teachers are instructed on how to use the procedure effectively.
Hamilton Southeastern School District SRO Stats:
2014 SRO activity
Total incidents: 826
Crash investigations: 47
Total Case reports: 78
Total arrests: 34