In the halls with Asheville Police Department’s School Resource Officers

Before becoming a School Resource Officer, Jason Briscoe served in the military and worked as a patrol officer for the Asheville Police Department. But the Asheville native says working among students, teachers and administrators, first at Asheville Middle School, then at Asheville High, was an eye-opener.

“My hat goes off to the teachers and principals and what they have to deal with,” Briscoe says. “When I saw it first hand, it changed my whole perspective.”

Briscoe is part of a team of four APD officers who serve as SROs, working to build bridges and maintain discipline in Asheville Middle and Asheville High Schools, and the Randolph learning Center.

While the highest priority of an SRO is to provide a safe learning environment for students, teachers and school administrators, they all say they have unique experience building relationships with the students they interact with.

“Our primary job is to be a police officer,” says Officer Mike Godwin, who has been at Asheville High School for the past five years. “But you can’t list all the hats you have to wear. You have to do it all.”

Godwin, who students have nicknamed “Uncle Mike,” says the officers are also role models who offer advice to students and work as ambassadors between the police force and children and young adults. The day-to-day interaction with teens means the SROs can help the students know that they can seek out the assistance of officers if needed, whether in school or on the street.

Officer Joe Jones, who is stationed at Asheville Middle School, says he has seen the same thing in the way he is viewed by students.

“A lot of time, police are seen in a negative light,” says Jones, who has a background working with kids as a camp counselor and teaching assistant before joining the APD and pursuing a place on the SRO team. “I have some kids who think that being a cop is pretty cool.”

Briscoe says he has had similar experiences, surprising students with his hackey-sack skills during lunch or accompanying the Asheville High ROTC to competitions.

“Kids like to see you being part of this stuff. I’m active with the kids and they appreciate that,” he says.

From a disciplinary standpoint, the officers step in when a problem has gotten too big for the school administration, and there are some things – such as fighting and weapons – which are approached with a zero tolerance policy. But Godwin says the officers can help students and their families work with the juvenile court system and the District Attorney’s office, often coming up with solutions that use community service to avoid permanent criminal records.

Asheville’s SROs operate and are funded through a contract with Asheville City Schools, which pays the officers’ salaries and benefits. That way, says Godwin, the SROs don’t get called away from the schools where they work. “We’re here as long as the teachers and students are here,” he says.

“We really enjoy the collaboration we have with the City of Asheville and the Asheville Police Department,” says Travis Durham, Asheville City Schools Director of Student Services. “The SRO program is a huge benefit to our students and their families, and we hope that relationship continues to grow.”

Click here for more information about the Asheville Police Department’s School Resource Officers.