By Madoline Markham
Photos by Harper Nichols
These School Resource Officers are just as focused on befriending students as they are keeping them safe.
Officer Richard Knecht
Mountain Brook High School
What made you want to do this job?
I am a father of five kids, four boys and one girl. I love children, and it takes a special kind of person to want to be around 1,040 kids every day. I do. It’s the greatest job in the world. To watch these kids come in as 10th graders and leave as young adults going to college is great. Some schools are trying to get the minimum out of students, but here they are getting the most out of every child.
In addition to providing security for the campus, what does your job entail?
I am here just to listen to the kids and mentor the kids and help them through their daily struggles. I have a giant bucket of candy, and they come in for candy and we break our barrier down. Sometimes they need to come and tell me how they feel, to tell me they just bombed a test or they just killed a test. I hear everything. I’m almost like an adjunct counselor here.
Tell us about your memory board.
In my office I have pictures of the kids and all the games and activities we go to as a group. There are pictures of football games, basketball team, cheerleaders. The students love to be part of the board.
What’s one of your favorite parts of the school year?
I am part of the homecoming parade every year; I either lead it or follow it in my police car. The kids invite me up on the floats. As SROs we get ready for the parade and make sure everybody is ready. The school spirit here is far beyond most schools.
What surprises some people about what you do?
I have had kids question whether I am a real police officer because they can’t believe they can have such a great conversation with a cop because most of the interactions they see are on TV.
Officer Rozetha Burrow
Brookwood Forest Elementary
What other policing positions have you held, and how did they lead you to this one?
I always knew that was something I wanted to do. Prior to this I was the city’s business liaison officer as a part of how the police department and the city were trying to foster relationships with the businesses. I jumped on the opportunity to do some SRO training while I was doing that.
How do the relationships you built in the community as a business liaison carry into what you do now?
There’s nowhere I can go in the city where an adult doesn’t know Officer ‘Row, but now I want to get to know the kids. Some of the business owners are parents or grandparents to these kids, so that’s why I wanted to make this full circle and get to know the kids as well in the school environment. I want to see a pre-K student start and finish all the way up through college. I knew about one student in every class or so when I started this year—one kid would say “Oh that’s Officer ‘Row. She’s cool.” Now I am trying to get to know them even better.
What does your typical day look like?
Around 6:30 a.m. I do a sweep of the building to make sure no doors or windows are open. I start off greeting the kids with carpool so all the kids see my face and get to know me. I like to cheer them up if they have a bad day or help them get their backpacks. I am out when they have recess and mask breaks outside, and I tell them goodbye when they leave in the afternoon.
What is your favorite part of your job?
It’s just getting to know the kids and the staff, building the rapport with them. I look forward to greeting them in the morning and evening and teaching them to make eye contact and to greet. Every day when I pull up it puts a smile on my face because I love what I am doing.
Corporal Glen White
Why is it important for kids to get to know a police officer?
I just talked to a class about the items on my belt. All the kids ask about what’s on it. I tell them about my training too, so that way they are familiar with what I carry and know that I know how to use it and that they are safe walking by me. So many kids don’t know what it is and so they are scared of it.
What questions do kids ask you?
Have you arrested anybody? Have you ever shot anybody? I try to answer as truthfully as possible but stay age-appropriate. How old are you? What’s your favorite color? They ask everybody that, and it lets them know I am a person too. What’s your biggest case you have worked? There is no telling what questions they will ask. It’s funny.
What memory from your time as an SRO stands out the most?
I first started at Crestline right after an officer was shot and killed in Birmingham. I got a T-shirt that was made to raise money for his family and asked a teacher to get her class to give me ideas on ways to display the shirt. They came up with so many good ideas. We ended up framing it, and each fifth grader signed the frame. I have that shirt hanging in my office now.
Have there always been SROs in all Mountain Brook schools?
When I started 14 years ago, we had one officer in the high school, and then about 10 years ago they added an officer at the junior high. Then after the Parkland, Florida, shooting in 2018 the city and Board of Education came to an agreement and put one in each elementary school too. With an officer in each school, if there is an emergency, we are right there and we can handle it.
What’s the biggest challenge of your job?
I am a friend to everyone at the school, but I also have to be an authority figure if something goes wrong or is an issue.
Officer Josh Glidewell
Mountain Brook Junior High School
What made you want to become an SRO?
When I was in college at Alabama, I thought about being a teacher and coach. When the opportunity came available, I thought it would be a good fit because it’s still law enforcement but it’s working with kids. I started here at the junior high in February, and before that I was at Brookwood Forest Elementary.
What’s the difference between working with elementary and junior high students?
The younger kids love police and firemen so you are the cool guy there and they want to talk to you about what’s on your belt. As kids get older, you have to work harder to develop those relationships. Now at the junior high, I have really enjoyed working the football games and being able to see the kids I knew at Brookwood Forest perform and succeed. The more kids I get to know, the more fun it will be.
Why do you think it’s important for SROs to build relationships with students?
With everything going on in the world, it’s a good way to bridge that gap and show police are humans too with lives and families and that we can work together as a community.
Is there a particular memory that stands out from your time as an SRO?
I developed a good relationship with the special needs group at Brookwood Forest, and there I developed a relationship with one of the kids and her mom, dad and brother. My wife and I were invited to her 13th birthday party, and I thought it was cool that they would reach out to us to be a part of that.
What’s challenging about your job?
Right now it’s dealing with the issues from COVID. I am better at learning faces than names, and now I am trying to learn 900 faces and only half of the kids are here everyday. There is not as much interaction as normal, so it’s hard to be the new guy while dealing with those things.
Officer Tommy Tanner
Mountain Brook Elementary
What made you want to be an SRO?
When I was going through school, I bonded with the officers at my school, and they were able to help me through some situations. I always wanted to be that person and return the favor. Being a school resource officer was something I was always interested in.
What does your job entail?
We are tasked with taking care of the worst-case scenarios we hope will never happen and percentage wise are highly unlikely to happen. The bulk of our time we assist with the faculty and staff on everyday runnings of school, to bond with kids and head off any problems before they become big problems. One thing I have found out is there are not a lot of extra hands in a school setting to help with a problem when it comes up.
What is one of your favorite parts of your job?
I love to bond with the kids especially when you get to a kindergartener who is overwhelmed. If he can find a friendly face who has the time and ability to befriend him, he can get over his anxiety. A lot of them need a grown up to calm their nerves and help them find their footing.
When you visit classes, what do you talk to them about?
It’s normally safety related matters. They like to talk about what police do, so we try to explain to them the what’s behind the scenes, which is a lot different than what they see on TV. Police officers are here to help and solve problems and keep everybody safe. We care about the truth, and the agendas people have and sides they take before they know the facts get in the way of knowing the truth. I want the students to deal in facts and let them drive the conversations and the decision making.
What’s a challenge for you at work?
High fives and fist bumps were big last year, but you have to do the best you can with this odd social distance. The kids are resilient, but it’s been a problem to build the bond like we normally want to do.
Officer Daphne Horton
Cherokee Bend Elementary
How did you end up in this position?
I worked for Birmingham Police Department for 20 years before I came to Mountain Brook, and five of those I worked with kids in the police athletic teams and Explore programs. Three other officers and I rotated as SRO at Banks Elementary School. I have been with Mountain Brook Police for 13 years, and I put in for the SRO program and was selected and started this year.
What made you want to work with kids again?
Kids are like sponges. Things you tell them they take in, and they respond back to you. It lets them see police officers in a way they don’t normally see police officers in that we are friends not foes. We are there to help them. We give elbow bumps now since we can’t do high fives, and they really like that.
What does your job entail?
My first job is school safety. Number two is interacting with the kids and the community itself. In carpool I go talk to the parents, so it lets the community have a person they can feel is their person and helps them feel more a part of the police department.
What memories stand out so far from this year?
There is one little girl in kindergarten who whenever she sees me she wants to come and give me hug. She tells her teacher or parent she wants to see her friend. We usually do two elbow bumps. That makes my day. I helped one of the kindergarten classes plant broccoli and other vegetables too. It was really fun.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I like going to different classrooms and being in the hall and talking to the students. I talked to a kid at the crosswalk for 30 minutes today. The minds of fifth grades, third graders or kindergartens are precious. They say whatever comes to mind. You never know what’s going to happen day to day.