New Albany school resource officers want to set positive example

Gary Seman Jr.
ThisWeek group
New Albany school resource officers Robert "Jobie" Warner (center) and Leland Kelly (right) chat with New Albany-Plain Local School District fourth-grader Blake Stall, 10,  on Jan. 11 at New Albany Intermediate School. Kelly was introducing Warner to students as the new K-6 school resource officer. Kelly, who formerly held the position, now is SRO at the middle school and high school levels.

Correction: Because of errors by a reporter and photographer, the names of Robert “Jobie” Warner, Blake Stall and Jon Hood were misspelled in the first published version of this story.

Jan. 8 was as much of a day of learning for Robert “Jobie” Warner as it was for the students at New Albany Intermediate School.

Warner started his first day as a school resource officer working with K-6 students in the New Albany-Plain Local School District.

A nine-month veteran of the New Albany Police Department, Warner looks forward to setting a positive example for the youngsters, he said.

“I’ve always loved kids, and five years ago, I had my first (daughter Kinsley), so that changed everything,” he said.

School resource officers primarily are involved with drug-resistance education, community outreach and working with administrators, Warner said. They are not on campus for law-enforcement activity unless coordinating with school officials, he said.

SROs serve full-time on campus, but whenever students are not in school, they are on patrol.

Related story:More New Albany officers rolling out on bike patrol

The district’s other SRO is Leland “LA” Kelly, whom Warner is replacing at the primary level. Kelly has been assigned to the middle and high schools, replacing Ryan Southers, who went onto pursue a detective position with the police department.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Warner, 28, a former firefighter who also spent five years with the Ohio State Highway Patrol. “And one thing I think will change their perspective of what officers are like (is) by starting with the school system.”

“Over my 13 years (with the New Albany Police Department), being in the schools has been the most rewarding experience of my career,” added Kelly, 43.

Warner has a base salary of $74,070, with a benefits package worth $43,000, according to the city. Kelly makes $91,034 annually had has a benefits package just under $49,000.

New Albany City Council pays the SROs and has a memorandum of understanding reviewed by both sides annually, said Scott McAfee, spokesman for the city.

New Albany-Plain Local's SRO program continues as some other central Ohio districts have questioned having officers in their school buildings.

Racial tensions ran high in 2020 after George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was arrested for allegedly passing counterfeit money at Minneapolis store, was killed while in the custody of police officers. The incident was recorded on video by bystanders, and nationwide protests and unrest followed in the highly charged political atmosphere.

In the wake of Floyd's death and other incidents, the Worthington Schools board, for example, voted to end its SRO program because of perceived intimidation by minority students. Columbus City Schools also removed officers from its buildings.

However, Jon Hood, director of student safety and security for New Albany-Plain Local, said the district fully supports the idea of SROs.

“I think this is a banner example of a police department and school district collaborating together in providing safety and security for students and adults in an educational setting,” Hood said.

Kelly said he has never experienced any hostilities from any student, regardless of color, either directly or indirectly.

He relayed a touching story that happened shortly after Westerville Division of Police officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering were killed in an ambush attack in early 2018.

“A second-grade African American girl gave me a hug and said, ‘Promise me you won’t die,’” Kelly said.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary