School is back in session and the City of New Albany provides two school resource officers (SRO) free to the New Albany Plain Local School District.

School is back in session and the City of New Albany provides two school resource officers (SRO) free to the New Albany Plain Local School District.

One of them, Officer Ryan Southers, recently sat down for a Q&A session to describe what being an SRO is all about. Ryan is in the third year of his six-year SRO assignment. When school is not in session, Ryan, a 15-year New Albany police officer, still patrols the community.

What is your favorite thing about being an SRO?

Without a doubt, my favorite aspect is the positive interaction and the potential to help some students make better choices. Many students haven't yet developed a big picture view beyond living day to day and what feels good right now.

What do you think may be the biggest misconception about SROs?

I think the biggest misconception is that police officers are in the schools to catch kids in the act of a crime. Enforcement is an important part of my job, but I try to avoid putting a kid in the system. If I could make a health care analogy, is it better to treat the symptom or change behavior so that the symptom goes away? If we can get kids to make better choices, take responsibility and feel supported, then we are reducing the potential for problems in the first place. In rare cases, enforcement is the only way. But I strongly believe in positive reinforcement and establishing a foundation of trust that we are all on the same side.

What has been your most gratifying experience?

When principal Dwight Carter came to New Albany, he allowed graduating seniors to choose which school staff would hand them their diploma. Last year, a student chose me, and we continue to remain in touch. That is very gratifying. I became a school resource officer to make a positive difference and help kids make good decisions. Life is about relationships. Sometimes kids just need to know that an adult believes in them with no ulterior motive.

How often are you on campus?

My schedule is similar to a teacher. I am at school Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and I don't take vacations during the school year. My office is in the high school but could be anywhere on campus during the day. I also attend dances, the prom and many sporting events. Patrol officers typically have a beat. The school campus is my beat.

What are the top things you talk about?

It depends on the age. A lot of second-graders remember me from Safety Town when they were in kindergarten. With middle and high school students, sports, cars and classes are frequent topics.

Has your time as an SRO made you a better police officer?

Being an SRO has made me a better investigator. I split my time between the students, staff and parents and sometimes have to piece together conflicting stories. It's also reinforced the importance of working together and having trust in each other as a community. The SRO position is an opportunity to interact early and often with our younger generation and show them that we care about them -- that we are on their side.

Scott McAfee is the chief communications and marketing officer for the city of New Albany.