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Lucas steps down as SRO

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By Christopher Brooke

 

Mike Lucas enjoyed his job as school resource officer for Henry County High so much, he resisted his previous idea to run for sheriff.

“You know, my goal was always to be sheriff of Henry County one day,” Lucas said.

The logical time to seek the elected office would have been when Sheriff Bobby Downey retired, but Lucas found he couldn’t tear himself away from the school.

“I made my decision to stay where I was,” he explained. “I loved what I was doing and I knew if I was sheriff, I wouldn’t be able to do the school resource officer position.”

Hired by Sheriff Ray Powell, Lucas feels after 30 years with the Henry County Sheriff’s Department, including his 14 years as the school resource officer, it’s time to go.

“I’ve had the luxury of being able to do everything a police officer does and then some,” he said. “I’ve worked the streets and been involved with people of the county here that I’ve known all my life — being able to help them through different things.”

As a school resource officer, the affable Lucas was able to bring a personal touch to helping students, parents and staff.

When a grant became available to create the law enforcement position at the high school, Lucas became Sheriff Downey’s choice for school resource officer.

“He talked me into trying this and no one — not even he — knew what the job really entailed,” Lucas recalled. “So, between myself and school staff, we just kind of created it where I was comfortable.”

One thing became clear pretty quickly about the school resource officer position — Lucas had to reach out to the students and get them to leave their prejudices about law enforcement personnel behind.

“The old cliché was that parents would tell kids, ‘You don’t talk to a cop,’” he remembered. “It made officers look bad. It took a lot to build the rapport.”

Once the ice got broken, though, the students warmed to Lucas.

“You actually just had to make kids talk to you, be nice to them, ask questions like how their day was and make them feel important, which they are.”

Without going into detail, Lucas said he enjoyed being able to help kids work through their problems and make himself available to hear concerns from adults and give advice.

Students, when Lucas would talk to classes, loved hearing about the real-life experiences of a police officer, he said. Questions like have you ever shot or tazed any one came up regularly, and Lucas would tell them he’s fortunate enough that nothing like that ever happened in his career.

Proof the students had accepted the school resource officer comes from the times students asked him to take part in their skits, class projects and videos. Lucas recently ran across a picture of him simulating putting a student in handcuffs, which was used as a hook for a poster in a reading campaign.

In terms of projects Lucas got involved in, he’s proud of Project Graduation, the lock-in designed to ensure graduates would celebrate safely at the end of their high school career. Lucas started participating in that before he became the resource officer back in 1988 with other police agencies, but he took it all on himself after taking the job in the school.

Lucas also took steps to fight bullying and the cyber-bullying that arose with the Internet Age.

“I was able to do a lot of mediation with that and solve a lot of issues,” Lucas said. “Just treat people the way you want to be treated,” was the point he would get across to those in the mediations.

“My opinion the reason why the bullying is so bad now is that kids have so much stress in their lives we never had to worry about when we were kids.”

He considers the fact that oftentimes both parents have to hold down jobs contributes to the stresses.

“It’s hard for kids to get the love from parents that they need because of the economy and the time that everybody has to work,” Lucas said.

As he looks back, Lucas said he feels good about what he’s done at the school when he gets positive feedback from former students.

“One of the things that has made my job so much easier is just the simple thanks you get when you do something for people,” he said. “It makes you feel good to walk through a store and somebody walks up to you and introduces you to his wife and kids and says, ‘This is the guy who kept me out of trouble while I was in school,’” he shared.

It will be hard for him to leave the high school this year, when his retirement becomes effective Aug. 1, Lucas admits. But then again, he adds, it would be difficult at any time.

“It’s been great for me — I hate to leave them,” he summarized. “I’m just ready for retirement.”

“Mike Lucas has been an integral part of the Henry County Public Schools for the past 14 years,” said Henry County Public Schools Superintendent Tim Abrams.  “He has been instrumental in implementation of many of the district’s safety protocols.  The relationships he has forged with students, staff, and the community are immeasurable and will be missed.  Mike has set the bar high for the next School Resource Officer.”

Sheriff Danny Cravens found Lucas’ time as school resources officer as beneficial to both the school and the law enforcement communities.

“His experience and his rapport with the students was just unbelievable. They trusted him. They talked to him,” Cravens said. “As a result he was able to provide information to prevent violence and resolve problems. He’ll be missed and very, very hard to replace. He’s had a lot of responsibilities — he adapted to it as it evolved.”

Law enforcement and school administrators plan a careful review of the policies that apply to the school resource officer position with some fine tuning of the program in mind, Cravens said. Duties, qualifications and parameters of the program will be outlined before they start accepting applications to fill the position.

Interviews will be carried out by a panel of law enforcement and school personnel, he said.

“It’s going to be difficult because you can’t take just anyone to fill that position,” the sheriff said. “There’s going to be pretty big shoes to fill.”

After all, the school resource officer is part law enforcement, but also social worker, counselor, educator, parental figure and more, Cravens said.

“I completely support the school resource officer program,” Cravens said. “We’re going to do everything we can to fill it with the highest quality person that we can.”