Roughly seven years ago, an armed gunman took five girls hostage at the middle school just six miles from our home — the school where my oldest daughter attended.
Most people probably never even heard about this terrible event, even locally. Why? Because it didn’t escalate into a tragedy. In fact, the ordeal ended rather quickly, with our school resource officer (SRO) able to defuse the situation within about 20 minutes. In other words, a good guy with a gun was able to stop a bad guy with a gun. And I know that my family (along with countless others) are forever grateful for his service.
That incident made me very aware of — and very grateful for — the folks who work to keep our schools and our children safe. I make sure that my three kids get to know their school resource officers and thank them whenever possible! This incident also made me very appreciative of those I know who have served in this very important role. One of my friends recently agreed to answer some questions about her responsibilities as an SRO. Here is our Q&A session.
What Is Your Name and Title?
Lynn Webb, Retired Deputy Sheriff and SRO
How Long Were You a School Resource Officer?
I was assigned to the Lafayette County School District as an SRO from 2008 to 2017.
What Led You to That Job?
At my previous job [of 10 years] with the University of Mississippi Police Department, I was able to work closely with the students as incoming freshman. The department has a housing unit where the officers on night shift work in the dorm areas. I was assigned to the unit for several years. I enjoyed being able to teach and mentor the students about life skills, alcohol abuse or other problems that would come up. Most of the students had never been away from home and now they were expected to act like adults without their parents being present. Later on, when I went to the Sheriff’s Office, I was given an opportunity to work at the school where I had attended as a child. I jumped at the opportunity. I loved every minute of that job.
What Were the Biggest Safety Challenges You Saw/Faced in the SRO Position?
One of the biggest challenges I faced was hoping I would be able to protect everyone if an incident ever occurred. It was also a challenge every day to keep abreast of the changes that would happen in the two buildings. I was responsible for all the students in grades pre-K through fifth, plus all the staff.
How Are School Resource Officers Trained?
The Mississippi Department of Education trains SROs in an intense, 40-hour-long program. We had to learn school law, school safety procedures, active shooter [response], crisis management, etc. Plus, the SROs met once a year for 40 hours of training. This typically dealt with updates that pertained to SROs and School Safety Officers (SSOs), who are non-law enforcement personnel.
What Do School Resource Officers Do All Day?
(And, in your opinion, what is their primary mission/objective?)
I would direct school traffic, assist with car rider drop-off, teach D.A.R.E., train staff on school safety and threat assessment, travel to away games for the various athletic teams, work home games, play with the students at recess, talk with students who may have personal things they were dealing with and even answer the phone in the office if I needed to. My primary objective each day was to keep my buildings safe and to ensure that the staff and the students had the best opportunity to get home safely to their families at the end of the day.
Do Resource Officers Make Schools Safer?
Yes. SROs make schools safer. If you don’t believe me, ask the office staff. If visitors came into the building with an attitude, they might think that it was OK to be loud and rude because they could just get away with the disturbance. But if an officer walked into the main office, those same visitors changed their attitude quickly. Most of the time, it was just our presence that kept the peace.
I read an article that claimed: “To better serve children and create safer learning environments, schools must increase the number of school counselors, decrease the number of SROs and increase professional development for teachers and administrators that address racial and gender bias and classroom management.”
How Do You Respond to This Position?
To create a safer learning environment, it takes all these people working together. The school counselor, in my opinion, is the most important person in the building. He or she has to know everything from counseling to administering state tests. The counselor’s job is never-ending! The teachers and administration, too, are always attending professional development to learn how to better manage classroom issues. And the teachers have to be more than teachers in today’s world. They have to be mentors, educators, referees and sometimes the closest thing to a parent that some of the students have.
As an SRO, How Did/Do You Feel About Providing Training to Arm Staff Members?
If a school district allows staff members to be armed, the district needs to have strict policies and procedures for this. The staff members should be trained more than a law enforcement officer in the use of firearms. The general two times a year will not be enough. As law enforcement officers, we have a belt full of tools. Sometimes we use all the tools and sometimes we don’t have to use any of them to handle a situation. And we are taught how to de-escalate situations and how to deal with critical incidents and the aftermaths. Teachers are not trained how to deal with critical incidents; they are taught to teach their subject areas. A critical incident such as a shooting could change the life of a teacher forever, and that would be a tragedy to the teaching community.
What Are the Most Critical Safety Procedures to Have in Place in Our Schools Today?
It’s critical to know how to identify a threat — whether that’s a staff member, a student, a parent or a visitor. Threats come in all forms. And schools need to know how to deal with an intruder [who] may be armed or a mentally disturbed person [who] is looking to hurt someone.
What Tips Would You Give Students to Stay Safe at School?
Learn your SROs. I was fortunate to have worked in a district where all the grades were on one campus. I was able to go between the buildings and build relationships with students in all the grades. It’s good for the students to build trust with someone they can go to when they see something wrong. Also, students should always be aware of their surroundings, use good situational awareness and never leave school with someone their parents don’t know about.
What Tips Would You Give Parents to Keep Their Kids Safe at School?
Parents need to teach their children to be aware of things happening around them. If they see something, say something. And parents should encourage their kids to listen to the teachers, the staff and the SROs when an emergency happens. It could save their lives.
About Beth Alcazar
Author of Women’s Handgun & Self-Defense Fundamentals, associate editor of Concealed Carry Magazine and creator of the Pacifiers & Peacemakers column, Beth Alcazar has enjoyed nearly two decades of teaching and working in the firearms industry. She holds degrees in language arts, education and communication management and uses her experience and enthusiasm to share safe and responsible firearms ownership and usage with others. Beth is certified through the NRA as a Training Counselor, Chief Range Safety Officer and Certified Instructor for multiple disciplines. She is also a Certified Instructor through SIG Sauer Academy, ALICE Institute, DRAW School, TWAW and I.C.E. Training and is a USCCA Certified Instructor and Senior Training Counselor.