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On Guard: School Resource Officers prepared for school year

With the 2018-2019 school year underway, the School Resource Officers at Oxford and Lafayette County School Districts said they’re committed to protecting the community’s most precious assets.

At Oxford High School, Sgt. Donovan Lyons and Cpl. Zach Anderson are tasked with keeping students safe. It’s a role Lyons said he takes seriously, because he’s also a parent to three children in Oxford Schools.

“Our role as SROs, just like patrol guys, is to protect the public, and we protect the student community,” Lyons said. “They count on us when they drop their kids off at school to keep them safe while they’re here.”

Lyons, who’s been in law enforcement for 26 years, said being a resource officer is a more challenging role in terms of the different roles he takes on throughout his work day.

Often starting the day at 7 a.m. and going home after 10 p.m., SROs are afforded the chance to get to know students and teachers on a personal level. Anderson, for example, won a Mississippi Scholastic Press Association award last year for his work with the OHS journalism class.

“What I do is, I try to stop by a bunch of classrooms during the day. And (the journalism class) is a fun class to go to,” Anderson said. “I just try to be involved with them a lot, and try to encourage them. Those kids are very good at what they do, and if you read some of their articles, it’s very impressive.”

The SRO’s job is more than just breaking up fights or directing traffic, something Lyons said he can attest to. Building interpersonal relationships and becoming part of the community, he said, is what helps decrease the chances students will leave high school and head down a bad path.

For example, the officers said they’d recently had an issue with two students who committed felony crimes. An SRO, Anderson said, is the person who encouraged the students to turn themselves in.

“We try to cut things off at the pass, nip things in the bud, and that’s why (SROs) are so important,” Lyons said. “Being in the schools, we hear stuff before it ever hits the street, in its infancy.”

In LCSD, Darren Roberts has served as SRO for 20 years. As the first resource officer in Lafayette County, Roberts said much has changed since he started working at Lafayette Middle School years ago.

With gun violence in schools on the rise, Roberts said he’s worked with the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department to devise new protective measures for students. The reality of dangerous situations is something he said was always on his mind, but it’s more prevalent now than it’s ever been.

“When it boils down to it, if something happens, it’s our job to take care of it. Students shouldn’t be thinking about someone breaking in the school,” Roberts said. “They should be worried about being kids.”

All three officers said they’re ready to make sure students can do just that: enjoy their time as students without fear they will be in harm’s way.

If anything, Anderson said, recent tragedies have made the need for SROs more apparent.

“I’ve always treated my job as, I’m here to keep things safe. But what you’re seeing now is the community embracing us,” Anderson said. “The community wants us here. Our kids are a treasure in the community, and we have to protect them.”