Each morning, students at Statesboro High School are met with smiles, words of greeting or high fives from Statesboro police Officer Steve Gravely.
The officer’s presence doesn’t mean something bad has happened. He is the school’s resource officer, which means his daily duties are conducted on school property instead of out in the city streets.
Dually funded by the city and the Bulloch County Board of Education, the school resource officer position offers an extra measure of safety as well as a liaison between students and law enforcement.
“The Statesboro Police Department assigns one officer to act as the school resource officer,” said Hayley Greene, BOE spokesperson. “The SRO is stationed at Statesboro High School while school is in session. The SRO attends most major extracurricular events, including occasionally traveling with the sport teams to away games. During holidays and breaks, the SRO returns to patrol status.”
Gravely, who has been at Statesboro High School for four years, said he enjoys the camaraderie between himself and the students.
He helps the school with safety plans and problem-solving, serving as a bridge between the school and community resources, he said.
“I give lectures, speak in classrooms and tell students about community awareness and preventing theft,” he said.
Gravely also conducts educational events using Fatal Vision goggles, or, “as students call them, ‘DUI goggles,’” to teach how alcohol impairs function, vision and other faculties.
“Daily, I am in the hallways, visiting classrooms, talking to students about law enforcement opportunities” and other topics, he said.
But some of Gravely’s favorite interactions with students involve sports. He attends all of the school’s sporting events as both a fan and a police officer, but his presence in uniform lends a hand to the safety aspect of his job.
“(Gravely’s) responsibilities include … school security, criminal incident reports, arrests and crime complaints, monitoring student activity in hallways and common areas, patrolling parking lots, crime awareness and prevention education, and serving as the Statesboro Police Department law enforcement liaison for faculty, staff and students,” Greene said. “Having an SRO law enforcement presence on-site at the school provides a visible deterrent to criminal activity, quick response in the event of a criminal incident, investigation resource for crime involving youth and an invaluable positive relationship with the future leaders of our community.”
Gravely said he feels his presence helps cut down on drugs and violence at the school.
“We haven’t had a single fight this year, and it definitely cuts down on thefts,” he said.
Statesboro High Principal Dr. Ken LeCain said Gravely is a welcomed addition to the school.
"Having a uniformed resource officer on campus is invaluable,” he said. “It gives us a direct link to the Statesboro Police Department. We have immediate response to our needs and help with investigations. The resource officer's presence is a deterrent to negative activity."
Statesboro High School, with a population of 1,602 students in its preschool program and in ninth through 12th grade, is the only Bulloch County school with an assigned resource officer.
Portal Middle High School has only 422 students, including its preschool program, and Southeast Bulloch High School has 972 students, including preschoolers.
“The school population and campus size factor into the need,” Greene said. “According to Superintendent Charles Wilson, placing a resource officer at a school directly relates to the jurisdiction area of local law enforcement and their ability to partner with the school system to provide a full-time officer at a school. School resource officers are licensed law enforcement officers.”
To place resource officers at Portal Middle High and Southeast Bulloch High would require a similar partnership with the Portal Police Department and the Bulloch County Sheriff's Office and their ability to place an officer and vehicle at these locations, she said.
“With the partnership (between the school and police), the Statesboro Police Department provides the officer and vehicle. The (department) bills the school district monthly for the officer's regular hours and any needed overtime hours,” Greene said.
However, there is always law enforcement coverage and protection at other county schools, according to local police and sheriff’s department spokesmen.
Brooklet police Chief Max Meyer said his officers patrol and visit Brooklet Elementary on a daily basis, performing walk-throughs and traffic patrol, because the school is inside the city limits. His officers are also available to help at Southeast Bulloch Middle and High schools when needed, he said.
Bulloch County sheriff’s deputies also patrol all area schools and assist with traffic during times when school starts and ends, said Bulloch County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jared Akins.
“We do school zone patrol first thing in the morning, walk through as frequently as we can (usually each day) and send deputies to work sporting events,” he said. “We also respond to any calls for service throughout the day and provide extra deputies to deal with any concerns (of) the school board or staff.”
Portal police also have a strong visibility in their schools, said Chief Jason Sapp.
“We don’t have an SRO, but we do go there every day,” he said, referring to traffic assistance and walk-throughs at Portal Elementary School as well as Portal Middle High School. “We have a good rapport with the schools.”
It is up to the schools as to whether a school resource officer is assigned, Akins said.
“The SRO issue was discussed with a former superintendent, and the sheriff (Lynn Anderson) was willing to assign a deputy” to a local high school, Akins said. “However, we could not come to a satisfactory compromise on jointly utilizing the assigned deputy, specifically when school was not in session.”
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.