He wears a badge and is sworn to uphold the law.

But after 17 years as a school resource officer, including serving at Central Crossing High School since the building opened in 2001, Grove City police officer Kert Lanam said he has realized his job is about more than law and order.

"Being a school resource officer is part law enforcement officer, part counselor and part mentor," he said. "It's really about building relationships with the students in the school.

"First of all, we're here to uphold the law in the school building and to help the school administration," Lanam said. "But it's also being there to help the district and the principals in any way they need."

Lanam will retire at the end of the year.

The South-Western City School District has an SRO assigned to each of its high schools. The officers working at Grove City High School and Central Crossing are employed and selected by the city's police department. Those at Westland and Franklin Heights high schools are Franklin County sheriff's deputies.

Lanam investigates any incident occurring on school grounds that could result in a criminal charge.

"I'm also here to assist when there's a general violation of school rules, but that's really the job of the teachers, principals and counselors," he said. "If something could be a criminal offense, I'll look into it, write up a police report and determine whether charges need to be filed.

"We don't have a lot of bad things that happen in school," Lanam said.

"It's mostly something like a kid's cellphone being stolen or occasionally I might run into a kid having drugs or alcohol in their car."

When asked what has been the biggest change in the job, Lanam had an answer ready.

"If you ask me, it's social media," Lanam said. "I hate social media. It can be a good thing, but in an instant, some he said/he said or he said/she said dispute can be spread through all these social devices. It used to spread a lot slower when it was by word of mouth only."

Lanam said he tries to interact with as many students as possible.

"I want them to see that police officers are human, too. We're not bad guys," he said. "Most of the time, someone's only interaction with a police officer is when the officer is helping them through a tough time or is going up against them."

Some students "you get to know personally and you become friends with them and their families," Lanam said.

Some students confide in him about problems they are having at home, at school or with their friends.

"They just need someone to talk to, to listen to them," he said. "I tell students at the beginning of each year, if you come to talk to me about something, it's going to stay between us, unless it involves something that's breaking the law or is harming someone."

Recently, Lanam helped organize a fundraiser among Central Crossing staff for a student whose mother had abandoned him.

"She left him with a family friend with nothing," he said. "So I sent out an email explaining the situation and we raised some money and took him out shopping for some new clothes. I took him out to dinner and talked with him.

"When you can have an impact like that on a student, that's what's really important to me," Lanam said. "I want students to think of me as being more than just the guy who's here to enforce the law."

To be a good SRO, "you have to be dedicated to the kids and to the school you work in. You have to buy into being a school resource officer," Lanam said. "It can't be a nine to five job. You have to put your heart and soul into your work."

He said it's important to have a presence outside of the school day.

"I try to go to at least one game of every Central Crossing team during the school year," Lanam said. "It helps build your relationship not only with the students but with their parents and families when they see you out and about."

"Kert's very involved with our school, especially when you see him coming to all our dances and athletic events," assistant principal Lori Mesi said. "It's really important for a school resource officer to be immersed in the school environment, like Kert is.

"He's seen by students, staff and parents as one of our team at Central Crossing and not an outsider who just visits our school building,' she said. "Most of our kids know Kert because they see him every day. It helps build a level of trust."

Soon, Lanam will be leaving the Central Crossing team, after a 30-year career spent entirely in Grove City. He worked first as a patrol officer, then spent one year assigned to Grove City High School before Central Crossing opened.

"It's going to be emotional walking out of the school that last day, I know that," he said. "Central Crossing's become part of me and I hope I've become a little part of Central Crossing."

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