This week, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) saw the return of backpacks, buses and lunch boxes. For the past several weeks, students have been gathering supplies and educators have been readying their classrooms, but they are not the only ones preparing for the first weeks.
Multiple police agencies in the county sponsor the School Resource Officer Program (SRO), a partnership with MCPS that places a sworn, uniformed police officer at every high school in the county. The Gaithersburg Police Department has one SRO, Officer Bobby Blackmon, based at Gaithersburg High School (GHS).
“(SROs) are an invaluable asset for the Gaithersburg Police Department,” said Sgt. Scott Scarff. “First, they provide a visible security presence for the school staff and students on a daily basis. They are the first line of defense should an active shooter situation occur. But much more than the security, the SRO provides an opportunity for our young people to interact with a police officer in a positive setting. This relationship often has value well beyond the school and later in life. Officer Blackmon is especially gifted in developing these relationships, often giving his own time to reach the students. Finally, the SRO serves as a valuable resource for other officers who may need to interact with the school or its students.”
Blackmon first joined the department in 1997 as a way to give back to the community. He became GHS’s SRO eight years ago. “It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do,” he said. The job enables him to provide a positive impact on students and each year earn their trust. “I wanted (students) to see officers in a different light besides locking people up.”
On a typical day, Blackmon assists with getting students to school safely, including monitoring traffic and pedestrians. He sometimes participates in morning announcements to discuss concerns or give tips. He then will assist security with monitoring school, which can include mentoring, mediation, and educational reinforcement. Usually once or twice a month, he also does presentations and talks to the elementary and middle feeder schools, discussing “policing and (giving students) a better understanding as to what we do as police officers and why we do the things we do,” he said.
In the weeks leading up to the start of school, Blackmon has been busy getting packets together and speaking at assemblies to give freshmen and new students an idea of what to expect at the school and “how we all need to collaborate to try to make high school a great experience—one of the best times of their lives,” he said. “We do a lot of things that are proactive just to get the students excited about the school year and to keep them safe.”
So why are SROs good for county high schools? “I think the title speaks for itself. Resource. That’s exactly what it is,” Blackmon said. “The students have an outlet that they can come to and ask questions about certain situations that they may encounter in their lives. They also have an outlet to come to if they just want to talk about a number of things whether it’s their grades, whether it’s sports activities, whether it’s different programs they want to get involved in, whether they have been bullied or approached in a situation and they aren’t sure what to do. It’s definitely a resource outlet for them and it also gives them a chance to see us as human beings—not just police officers. I think it is very important for each school to have (an SRO).”
Blackmon said his job is challenging but the most rewarding of his career. Over his time at GHS, he has seen wide-eyed freshmen walk through the doors and not know what to expect turn into confident young adults at senior graduation moving on to new horizons. “That’s the best part of my job,” he said.