They serve as role models and mentors. They volunteer as coaches. Whether it is walking around the school building to shake hands with every staff member or stopping to chat with students and parents before school, they’re relationship-builders. On average, members of the Cobb County School District Police Department have dedicated 26 years of their lives to relationship-building and protecting the community.
During the first week of October, the school community pauses to say “thank you” to these men and women in uniform. The Public Safety Appreciation Week gives students, parents, and staff members the opportunity to unite and show appreciation and gratitude to public safety personnel.
During the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s annual public safety appreciation breakfast October 2, the Chamber recognized two CCSD police officers, Officer Edwin Ainsworth and Officer Terry Parks, for the proactive steps they took to keep students at South Cobb High School safe.
“[I have] no doubt that in this particular incident, they probably kept someone from being injured, shot, or even killed,” said CCSD Police Department Capt. Wayne Pickett.
Keeping students and staff safe is the priority of the CCSD Police Department. Chief Ron Storey credits the officers’ more than 30 years of experience with helping them to quickly identify the potential threat on campus.
“They work very well together,” added Lt. Mike Wilson. “They work with the administration, which is key. They take a serious interest in their school campus.”
Praising the work of Officers Ainsworth and Parks, South Cobb Principal Clint Terza frequently tells Chief Storey how much he appreciates the two school resource officers.
Officers Ainsworth and Parks are examples of the type of officers Chief Storey aims to hire.
“We look for officers who have prior experience,” Chief Storey explained. “We try to hire the mature, experienced police officer.”
Described as the “best of the best” by Capt. Pickett, the CCSD Police Department includes an elite group of senior law enforcement officers.
“We don’t hire. We select,” added Capt. Pickett.
According to Capt. Pickett, police officers must embody the best character and best stature of an individual, especially when working with kids. He wants the officers to build rapport with students.
Many officers also step out as mentors for students they recognize as needing positive role models.
“We have several officers, and encourage more, to go and talk to different groups of kids,” Lt. Wilson explained.
Some officers take extra measures to build relationships with students. Capt. Pickett shared a story about how one officer used positive interactions to change a student’s perception of police officers.
“[This student] could not stand the police,” Capt. Pickett recounted. “He would use profanity directed toward police every time the officer would say, ‘hello.’ It was pretty abusive.”
That didn’t discourage the police officer. The officer sought the student out during class change. He continued to try to positively engage the student.
“The kid would cuss at the officer and walk off,” Capt. Pickett continued. “The officer would follow behind him and try to talk to him, to break that barrier, that wall. This went on for weeks. The kid has finally opened up to the officer, and this officer and the kid have become great friends. They have broken the barriers. They talk.”
The school resource officers, at times, must wear the hats of law enforcement, but they often, instead, wear the hats of great communicators, listeners, and friends. They recognize when a student is having a bad day and encourage him or her to make better choices in the future.
Chief Storey is grateful for events like Public Safety Appreciation Week because he thinks it increases awareness about the role of school resource officers, including how their jobs are both dangerous and rewarding.
“A lot of the schools take it upon themselves to recognize their officers because the officers are in the school day in and day out,” said Capt. Pickett. “Whether it is providing them a catered lunch or bringing something to the officer, we have several schools that do that.”
Chief Storey smiled as he described the breakfast prepared for local police officers by the South Cobb High School culinary students.
“It is extremely good food,” the chief added.
The Cobb Chamber of Commerce suggests some of the following ways to show appreciation to public safety personnel like the 65 officers in the CCSD Police Department:
- Cater a meal to the station.
- Invite a public safety official to lunch.
- Send thanks, the write way. A hand-written note of thanks goes a long way in today’s digital world.
- Hand out a hug.If you encounter an officer during your day, offer up a hug, and say thanks.
- Deliver a sweet surprise. Homemade goodies are a welcome gift at fire stations, police stations, and any other public safety office.
- Take a selfie with a hero.