FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Some say the state’s School Safety Resiliency Act treats the symptoms but not the illness. That bill, passed in 2019, will become state law on August 1. That means every school building in the state will be required to staff an armed school resource officer.
“No other state has a group of individuals like the Marshal’s office in the state of Kentucky. We can put boots on the ground in a school and help a school with what they need,” said State School Security Marshal, Ben Wilcox.
Wilcox is a former SRO himself and is now tasked with not only making sure schools are compliant with the new law, but to help them become compliant.
“We don’t just walk in, slap down a piece of paper, and say, ‘fix this.’ We walk in and say, ‘how can we fix this,’ he said of one of the many services his office provides.
For many parents across the state, sending their child into a school where an SRO is on duty won’t be anything new. Fayette County, for example, already has 70 school resource officers. Many of them are so much more than just armed guards to many of the students and faculty members.
“Our greatest tool in keeping schools safe is maintaining a positive relationship with our students and staff and community members,” said Fayette County SRO Chief, Martin Schafer. “They have a trusted adult in the building they can go to for a number of reasons; if they have a problem, or need somebody they can talk with,” Chief Schafer continued.
Wilcox was an SRO himself and said it was the best six years of his career.
“I had become a police officer to save the world. I thought that meant going out and arresting the bad guys. When it came to pass, saving the world meant working with those kids and becoming a trusted adult for them,” he told a panel of Kentucky state legislators, who gathered for today’s informative question and answer session at the Capitol.
Becoming an SRO isn’t easy as it requires 120 hours of training, which includes more than tactics should an armed individual wander onto school grounds. It’s also not cheap to employ one, which is why Wilcox’s office will help districts until they can get that part of their budget ironed out.
“There were many times a teacher would look at a kid and say, ‘he’s a trouble maker.’ Those were the guys who would come to my office and we could discuss what was going on at home because I understood what was going on at home,” Wilcox added about the mentoring role that any SRO should expect to be a big part of the job.