Student resources officers who serve at Destin public schools do much more than just protect school campuses.
SRO’s primarily job is the safety of students, teachers and staff members from inside and outside threats. They also serve as mentors, educators and counselors to many young students and teachers.
“I have an open door policy where kids can come in and talk about anything, problems in or outside of school,” said Destin Middle School’s SRO Deputy Richard White. “I try to find out what their interests are and be more approachable … that way I can figure out what is going on and try to help them.”
White said he also trains teachers and staff for any emergency situations like what to do if there’s an active shooter or the school is place on lockdowns.
“This is our little city where the principal is the mayor and I’m the sheriff,” he said.
Deputy Sonya Shepard, Destin Elementary School’s SRO, also said building relationships between officers and students is a very important part of the job.
“A lot of kids have negative ideas about officers and I really want them to feel comfortable around us," she said. “If they are in trouble outside of school, I want them to feel comfortable to ask another officer for help. I want to give a positive feeling about law enforcement.”
Shepard said it’s critical that elementary teachers and staff members know exactly what to do during weather emergencies and worst case scenarios.
“Elementary-aged students rely completely on teachers and staff to guide them to safety and protect them,” she said. “We want to make sure teachers are fully trained and not be frighten during an emergency situation.”
Shepard said she gets a lot of thank yous and hugs from students.
“All they want to do is hug me and tell me that they love me … that tells me that I’m doing my job right,” she said. “For some kids, this might be the only place they feel safe.”