By MORGAN MANNS
The duty of two Fostoria police officers reaches far beyond the average car chase, traffic ticket and domestic call.
Officers Justin Kiser and Travis Ricker work almost every day as school resource officers, trying to keep Fostoria’s schools safe, being there to help the students and otherwise making a difference in the lives of Fostoria’s youth.
“With all the school shootings happening around the world, my most important job in this position is to be there just in case something like that does happen,” Kiser said.
“The safety and wellbeing of the kids is our first priority,” Ricker said. “We try to see how they’re doing. We check on how they’ve been; if they have any problems. We communicate and interact with them to let them know that we’re here if they want to talk.”
Ricker is the SRO at Fostoria Intermediate Elementary School, Riley Elementary School and Longfellow Elementary School, while Kiser works as the SRO at Fostoria Junior/Senior High School.
Ricker, who is also the school’s D.A.R.E. Officer, said he tries to be at the three different schools when the children are coming and going because that’s when the most parents will be there, as well as occasions when more traffic will be going in and out of the buildings.
He said since he’s been the SRO at the schools he has gained the trust and respect of a lot of students and communication between officers and the students has improved.
“They know that they can come to us with anything,” he said. “They’re not as afraid to approach an officer as they were in the past. They trust us.”
The SROs are used as a deterrent to keep students from acting out, as well as a companion or role model the students can come to if they need anything, according to Ricker.
Other parts of their job includes patrolling the hallways of the school buildings to make sure students are behaving and not being disruptive, as well as watch for individuals who shouldn’t be in the schools.
Although no serious incidents have occurred, Kiser said he has had to take students to the police station, and even arrest a few, in the two years he has worked as an SRO.
Both SROs said the schools’ staff members are willing to help in any way they can and to talk with the officers about concerns or questions they might have.
“It’s a great opportunity for both the police department and the schools to work hand-in-hand together,” Kiser said.
They also conduct home visits when a student is continuously absent from school. The officer will go to that student’s residence to check on their welfare. Kiser said they will look for reasons why the student isn’t making it to school and will attempt to set something up, whether it be busing or handling an issue with another student, that will get that student to school.
Ricker described his position as a school resource officer as “getting the best of both worlds,” stating he works with students during the school day but when school is closed, he gets to patrol the streets.
Kiser said working as a school resource officer is different from patrol work.
“It’s a lot more personal dealing with kids,” he said. “You have to learn how to talk to them in a way that is different than talking with adults.”
Kiser said he signed up for SRO within the police department because he “loves kids,” he “wanted to help kids,” and he “thought it would be something he was good at.”
Ricker said he really likes when the students come up to him.
“They give hugs to me in the morning and say ‘Hi Officer Ricker,'” he said.
“I chose elementary specifically because, for me at that age, you can make more of a difference in someone’s life. And I’ll do it until I can’t make a difference with the kids anymore.”