LYNCHBURG, Va. – Officer R.E. Coleman III is a school resource officer at Heritage High School. He stands in the cafeteria during lunch hour, and student after student approaches him to shake his hand. A recent video of Coleman playing with Heritage High’s marching band at a game… shows how much trust he's gained with the students over the last two years.
"It opens communications up with kids inside the city. It makes police officers approachable,” Sgt. Gary Fink said.
Fink was a school resource officer 10 years ago. He knows how important it is to have an officer in the hallways.
"Even the kids that got in trouble with me or that I went to court with, they've come back to me and talked to me and thanked me. They got on the right track. And the connection is so much stronger when you see them on a day-to-day basis and you build that trust and open communication and build that bridge with them,” Fink said.
In 2012, Lynchburg police did not have the money to keep resource officers in the middle schools. Now, a state grant has made it possible again.
"That partnership within our two entities has grown and developed over the past five years to where we think it's grown to the strongest it's been in a very long time. We have SROs in all of our middle schools and all of our high schools,” Ben Copeland, the assistant superintendent for Lynchburg City Schools, said.
Fink said officers such as Coleman help the Lynchburg Police Department enhance its relationship with young people.
"We gotta make sure to remember to put ourselves in their shoes and kind of look at it from their perspective, to make sure we understand why they did what they did and also help get them on the right path. That's the key. Pushing them to the courtroom is not always the right answer. Making sure they understand and get educated is the right answer,” Fink said.