CARROLLTON, GA – They’re out and about every school day canvassing the campus, executing their duties with professional skill and diligence. As official patrol officers with the Carrollton Police Department, they are charged not only to protect and serve, but to build relationships with students.
Carrollton City Schools is fortunate to have these three public safety professionals as full-time school resource officers, said Dr. Mark Albertus, superintendent.
“Our commitment to safety is paramount,” he said. “We are grateful to the Carrollton Police Department and the Carrollton City Council for joining our Board of Education in supporting this important safety initiative.”
Albertus noted it is difficult for school systems to experience the depth of SRO support realized in Carrollton, primarily because of distance between school campuses. Since all Carrollton City Schools are on one contiguous campus, within seconds, all three SROs could be at a site in the case of an emergency.
The three officers, Justin Cardell, Jerric Gilbert and Amanda Moore, are assigned to specific schools during the school day. The veteran SRO, Moore, serves Carrollton Middle School and Carrollton Junior High. Cardell is the SRO for Carrollton High School. Gilbert has become somewhat of a celebrity at Carrollton Elementary School, where he has even been seen playing tag with students and reading to classrooms.
What the CES students think is “playing” with their SRO is really relationship building, said Craig George, assistant superintendent of Operations for Carrollton City Schools.
“The students learn to not only respect law enforcement officers, but they learn to trust them, to like them,” he said. “This will go a long way in their long-term perspective on public safety.”
“Each SRO has a servant’s heart,” noted Albertus. “It takes a special kind of officer to connect with kids.”
For SRO Gilbert, his desire to become an officer happened in elementary school.
“One evening, as I was leaving school, I was waiting to cross the street with the crossing guard and a police officer pulled out in front of the two of us, turned on his blue lights, and allowed me to cross the street,” he said. “As a child in the third grade, seeing someone who was a complete stranger take the time to stop traffic and allow me to cross the street gave me a sense of hope and comfort knowing that someone else cared about me other than my mom and grandmother. I take that memory with me into this job every day.”
Connecting with teen-agers takes a different tact. For SRO Cardell, it’s through music. The uniformed officer can been seen many times playing his trumpet with the Trojan band, whether in the band room, in the stands during football games, or at community outreach events.
“I think of myself as a people person and love interacting with the youth in our community,” said Cardell. “I help with our youth group at First Christian Church on Wednesday nights and luckily a lot of our youth go to Carrollton! When this position opened up, I could not stop thinking about what an opportunity I could have to help bridge the gap between our youth and the police.”
Moore, who was a college softball coach before becoming a police officer, is grateful to have the support of Cardell and Gilbert since last year she was responsible for covering all schools when another favorite SRO, Jason Rowell, became ill and had to leave the position.
“Since I was stretched so thin last year, a lot of my time was spent dealing with negative things instead of being able to focus on the positive interaction,” she said. “This year, with three SROs on campus, I feel like we are able to be a positive influence on the students. I love being able to just hang out in the cafeteria or gym class, learn kids’ names, support the athletics, and attend concerts and plays. Yes, we have to deal with kids who are breaking rules or even the law, but my main goal in being an SRO is for them to know that I was a kid once just like them, and I am here for them, good and bad.”
Moore also coordinates a six-week course developed by the Carrollton Police Department called BADGE, which stands for Bullying, Attitude, Drugs, and Gangs Education. The program is designed to teach children about Internet safety, bullying, school violence, gangs, friendship, stress, peer pressure, attitudes, personal safety, and drugs. Lessons, taught by SROs and other CPD officers, offer a chance for the children to role play using their new skills and help them gain self-confidence for real-life situations. The lessons also help students identify positive alternatives to drug abuse and violence.
Programs like BADGE, plus the intensified focus on campus safety, make the SRO position an important one for schools, said Albertus.
“These are trained police officers, part of the official force,” he said. “Yes, we want them to interact with students and project that image, but remember they also are highly trained law enforcement officers who know what to do in the unfortunate event of a crisis. They are key to our overall safety plan and truly emulate the motto ‘protect and serve.’”
Cardell, and the other SROs, see their roles as critical mission.
“Society tells us to fear the police,” said Cardell. “We want to show these kids that we love and support them. We want to be able to be a resource to whatever they may need and to let them know they can come to us with any problem they may be facing in life.”