It’s National School Resource Officer Appreciation Day and we couldn’t be more thrilled to join communities across the country in celebration of School Resource Officers (SROs)! As valuable and essential members in our school communities, we are honored to work closely with SROs from around the country. To kick off today’s festivities, we sat down for a little Q&A with our good friend, Sgt. Travis Mitchell of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, to chat about what the SRO role means to him and how SROs help keep our schools safe and sound.
Q: Let’s start off with you – your journey. What inspired you to become a school resource officer and how long have you been in this role?
A: Having worked several years in patrol, I noticed a need for additional role models for the youth in our area. I wanted to help fill that void and expand the positive relationship between law enforcement and the community. I realized this could be accomplished by becoming a School Resource Officer. I have had the privilege of working within the School Safety Division for over 10 years.
Q: In our research, we’ve found that there is often a communication gap between school and home. Sometimes it’s a lack of awareness in terms of the safety plans or resources available, and sometimes it’s confusion surrounding the roles of some of our school safety leaders. How would you describe your role and how does it impact/contribute to school safety?
A: I am fortunate to help lead a team of amazing School Resource Officers, and we have a strong working relationship with our school community. We continually look for opportunities to build positive relationships through initiatives and programs that engage our school communities. Additionally, we work closely with our schools in emergency planning, preventative measures, threat assessments, exercises, communication of safety concerns, crisis response teams, after hours incident response and much more, all in an effort to help keep our schools safe.
Q: Speaking of your role, what is one common misconception about SROs that you want to address?
A: Sometimes SROs are viewed as simply a physical security agent for their school. An SRO is so much more than this. SROs should become part of their school’s culture. At various times they may become heroes, coaches, mentors, friends, or informal counselors. One example comes to mind where one of our SROs became a hero to an elementary student. The student was playing outside during recess, when she returned inside she realized she lost a ring which had been given to her by her grandmother before her passing. The SRO was notified of the incident and helped look for the ring with no luck. The next day the SRO brought in his metal detector and searched the entire playground until he found the ring. This effort from the SRO not only positively impacted this little girl but also the school community.
Q: Let’s bring it back to the impact. What is one instance where you felt your skillset and/or training made a difference? Perhaps in the life of a student or the greater school community.
A: The ability to build positive relationships is a valuable tool. Through a coordinated effort with the schools, we were able to implement a Lunch Buddy program where Deputies, investigators, command staff and SROs simply go into elementary schools and interact with students and staff during lunch. The result of this helped build a relationship with the school community and the community at large. As a bonus, first responders who participated gained a better understanding of the school layout in the event of an emergency.
Q: Before we get to our last question, let’s quickly talk about peaks and valleys. What is one thing you love about your profession and one thing that is challenging?
A: I enjoy seeing the impact of positive relationships. I feel the mutual trust we build with our community will help keep us safer, connected, inclusive and engaged for many years to come. One of the challenges we face is sometimes wishing we could do more. Knowing additional services could be beneficial to someone, and those services not being readily available, can be challenging.
Q: Lastly, any words of wisdom or encouragement you would like to share with others who are looking to become school resource officers?
A: It’s about the children. Children generally don’t have control over their environment, so be mindful that what we see and experience around the kitchen table isn’t the same for everyone. Taking the time to learn others’ values is time worth taking. For me, becoming an SRO is one of the most impactful experiences of my professional life.