In Tony Metcalf’s career as a student resource officer (SRO) and now as the lieutenant in charge of the SRO program, he loves the kids. He and his team are often superheroes to the youngest students, mentors to all students, and a reassuring and comforting presence to parents and the community.
The little ones are heartwarming.
“They’re just cute, and it tickled me so much because the students are so serious about this big bad wolf. And they want him to stay in jail,” said Metcalf.
He reassures them. He has the big bad wolf, and they are safe. At times, they may ask again, “Do you still have the big bad wolf?” And like a confident protector… of course, he does.
SROs are more than protectors.
“We try to be their mentors. We try to bring kids in and talk to them, or if they need to talk to us, our administration lets them come. We want to help them with their problems,” Metcalf said. “We’re telling [our SROs] all the time, you’re not just the SRO. You could be more like a father figure to a child. There are a lot of things you could say to these children that they don’t hear, and that’s the reason you have such a good relationship with a lot of them. That one good contact may outweigh all the bad things they might be going through at home. That does make a difference; I believe that.”
Metcalf began making a difference through a career in law enforcement at the city of Fayetteville in 1999, and he became an SRO when Officer Karen Gardner retired. It was a time when Lincoln County High School had one full-time officer, and the other officer covered the remaining six county schools. Today, there’s one in every county school.
Metcalf and Sergeant Jarrodd Barrow try to go to each school throughout the week, and often more than one school each day, checking on the SROs in the building and ensuring the officers and administration have everything they need.
He said, “We’re getting ready to add several more people to the division, hopefully. They moved me to lieutenant over the division because it’s getting as big as our patrol division.”
Reserve officers attend many sporting and extracurricular events, creating even more support for students, administrators, families, and the community.
Like Metcalf, the officers feel compelled to connect with the children.
“We try our hardest to build the best rapport with the students and the staff in each building, and we visit other buildings. That makes this job what it is; you build a good rapport with these people,” he said. “I love children, and that makes it a lot easier to get out and do your job. And the kids love seeing us. You’re more like a rock star when you walk in there with these little ones. They think you’re the greatest thing ever, so it’s very rewarding. I’m not sure everybody can do it, but I have a great group of folks I’m working with, and they do a great job. Each one of them fits their building so well.”
Even when situations arise that require a firm response, the goal is the same.
“We try very hard not to [have to take them in], but it’s tough love. You’re still trying to help them,” he said. “If we can step in now, we might not have to when they get to be the age of 18. I’ve seen it spiral out of control by then.”
Graduation isn’t the end of the officers’ relationships with the students. It’s for life. Before you know it, the next generation is in school, and the legacy grows with them.
“It’s amazing; they’re adults with their own children, and you see them out. If it’s one you’ve had to deal with or work with, it’s rewarding to me to see them successful. It makes your heart swell because you are a part of that,” said Metcalf.
And the administration’s support of the program undergirds its success. Metcalf and his team appreciate the excellent working relationships and the positive feedback they receive from everyone.
The folks dropping the kids off realize we’re here, and they wave and tell us thank you all the time,” he said. “It’s rewarding to know that you’ve got everybody’s children, and they trust you to do what you need to do for the kids.”
Thank you, Lieutenant Metcalf and all your staff, for watching out for our children. We appreciate you! GN