Lt. Julie Quinn, Bradley County SRO supervisor and SRO at Bradley Central High School, said the officers need to be positive role models.
“Students learn from every interaction with an SRO, and it is essential for the officer to endorse a high moral standard while using good judgment and discretion,” Quinn said. “[Officers] must be consistent and fair, respecting all students while displaying a sincere concern for the school and the community.”
City schools received their first SRO in 1995 with Bradley Junior High (now Ocoee Middle School) receiving its first in 1997. Additional officers have been added to each system. City schools currently have nine officers to Bradley County’s 16.
Both school systems are provided with SROs through their respective law enforcement entities, the Cleveland Police Department and the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office.
Sgt. Mike Moses, city schools SRO supervisor, said the role of the officer has shifted over the years.
“Initially, it was more of a liaison, and now they are in more of a teacher role. Their main priority is to keep the school safe. They enforce the law in their schools,” Moses said. “All of them work with the principals to make the schools as safe as they can be. We are always trying to make it better, safer.”
County officers are required to complete two years of patrol detail before applying for an SRO position. An extra year is needed for city officers to apply for a Cleveland schools SRO position.
In addition to two years on patrol, Quinn said Tennessee law requires each officer must be P.O.S.T.-certified (Peace Offer Standards and Training) and attend a basic 40-hour SRO training.
“We train and we train and we train,” Quinn said. “Each year the law requires we have 16 hours of SRO specific topics and training.”
She said officers are sent to specialized training near and far, when the budget allows.
“We do rapid deployment, active shooter in each school and crisis situations and how to respond,” Quinn said. “We learn the layout to the schools, and not just our own school. We train together.”
SROs in both school systems are trained to respond to an emergency occurring in their schools and those nearby. SROs routinely have simulations in the schools while students and staff are out for the day.
Moses said city officers attend the National Association of School Resource Officers within the first year. The two-week training lasts 80 hours and covers everything from writing lesson plans and handling an active shooter to counseling. Officers are required to go to the shooting range monthly. He said officers put in about 100-120 hours of training each year.
Quinn and Moses agreed officers need certain extra qualifications.
“You have to have a sincere interest in working with kids. You have to be comfortable around them and friendly towards them. You have to take their future to heart,” Quinn said.
According to Moses, he looks for the same thing in an SRO as he does in any other officer.
“They are certified police officers. All of them have street experience and three of them are on the SWAT team,” Moses said. “We try to choose people with the right attitude and demeanor. I feel like we have the best personnel in our SROs.”
Continued Moses, “What I am looking for is someone with a caring attitude and a calm demeanor. Someone who is approachable and who will take care of business when it needs to be handled.”
Officer Richard Tanksley has served at Arnold Elementary for almost three years and is one of the city SROs also on the SWAT team.
He said his position as an SRO allows him to develop a positive relationship with the students.
“A lot of kids grow up in some parts of Cleveland [being raised] to not like the police,” Tanksley said.
A part of the SRO’s job is to build rapport and trust with the students.
“They tell us things they may not tell a teacher,” Tanksley said. “You need to get to know them and act like you are their friend instead of just being friendly.”
He said staying at one school for a while allows an SRO to really get to know the children and faculty.
According to Quinn, SROs can be territorial of their assigned school.
“Once they get in the position, they don’t want to leave. It is their school, those are their kids,” Quinn said. “It’s a standing joke that the schools are the SROs’ houses. They will say, ‘You don’t come into my house.’”
Both school systems are looking to add additional SROs. The Cleveland Board of Education has discussed finding the funds to have an SRO at both Yates Primary School and E.L. Ross. Currently the two are sharing one officer. Quinn said BCSO would like to place a permanent officer at the GOAL Academy and add an additional officer to both high schools.
“This way we could have a male and female officer at both high schools,” Quinn said. “Sometimes the girls feel more comfortable with a female officer and the guys feel more comfortable speaking with a male officer.”
Moses also warned of a new trend in school issues.
“The biggest problem I see right now is social media. You get a lot of harassment on Twitter and Facebook while at home and then they bring it to school,” Moses said. “If parents kept an eye on their children’s use, it would be a tremendous help.”