Monroe, NC – Most county residents believe the Union County Sheriff’s Office answers 911 calls, investigates crime, provides security at the courthouse and operates animal services. What many may not know is that the Sheriff’s Office also staffs deputies in the county high schools and in one middle school.
They are called “School Resource Officers”, or SRO’s,” the officers help students learn that law enforcement officers are approachable, and are a valuable part of their school community. The Monroe Police Department also staffs SRO positions at Monroe High and Middle Schools as well. These SRO’s serve not only as a law enforcement presence, but as educators and as informal counselors within the schools.
The School Resource Officer program began in Union County Schools in 1996.
Lt. William Thompson, current supervisor for the SRO program, was the first SRO assigned to Parkwood High School. As a young deputy at the time, Thompson remembers his first year there. “The biggest obstacle to overcome was the fear and mistrust the students had of a law enforcement officer on campus”, Thompson said. “I let them know that the only ones that should have any concerns were the wrong-doers.”
The very concept of armed officers in the school system was also very controversial at the time. Thompson earned the trust of students, school administrators and the Parkwood community in the nine plus years he served there. More than twenty of his former students entered law enforcement careers, many saying that Thompson influenced them in their career choice.
Students at Sun Valley High School are accustomed to seeing SRO Deputy A.J. Wallace on campus. A five year veteran of the Union County Sheriff’s Office, he has been the SRO at Sun Valley High since 2009.
A great example of how closely an SRO can become connected to the school’s community, Wallace is no stranger to the hallways, classrooms, parking lots and athletic fields – he’s a familiar face anywhere on campus. “We call him (Wallace) ‘Matrix Man’ here on campus. He’s faster than lightening when he’s needed somewhere in a hurry,” stated Pam Bland, office receptionist. Teacher Angie Weed adds, “He’s great with the kids. He gives them more than most. He speaks to my Social Studies classes about Fourth Amendment [search and seizure law] issues every year.”
On graduation day this past June, Deputy Wallace was in a different role for the school. He was invited to present the commencement speech to the graduating senior class.
SRO A. J. Wallace
“When they asked me if I’d speak, I was very surprised and very humbled,” Wallace said. “It was a real honor.” An alumnus of Sun Valley, he never imagined that he would be speaking to the 50th graduating class.
During his speech, he compared the class of 2011 to his class of 1989 in that they set the mark high for future classes to emulate.
Wallace then shared three goals with the students. First, he told them to stand strong in their pursuit of excellence in education. Secondly, he asked them to remember what life was like for them in kindergarten through high school, and reminded them that graduation from high school marks the beginning of life in the adult world. His last goal shared was to challenge them to embrace change. He told them if they wanted to make a difference in the world, the change must begin within them. He encouraged everyone to be passionate about their dreams and use their lives to change the world. Deputy Wallace is back on Sun Valley’s campus for the 2011-2012 school year.
SROs are on-campus at each high school within the county and also East Union Middle School. Sheriff Eddie Cathey says that, “The SRO program is such an opportunity for the Sheriff’s Office to connect with students and their families, in a long term way, not for just one incident. In times like these, the closer the relationship that law enforcement forges within the community, the better (and safer) it is for all of us.”
The Sheriff’s Office is appreciative of the working relationship between the agency and the Union County School System. “We work well with school administration and the Board of Education in the delivery of this program, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work with young people at this level,” said Sheriff Cathey.
Cathy Girouard, a Program Manager in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Program, Child Protection Division states, “In the aftermath of school violence outbreaks in recent years, the safety of children at school remains an important national issue. Although research continues to show that schools are relatively safe places for children, the subject of school safety continues to concern families, school administrators, and communities. The perception of imminent danger in the school environment has become commonplace in many communities, leaving parents, students, and school personnel with, at best, a tenuous sense of security.
The school resource officer (SRO) concept offers an approach to improving school security and alleviating community fears.”
For information on the SRO program or other Union County Sheriff’s Office programs, please contact Lt. William Thompson at 704-283-3765 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2011 Union County Sheriff