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School resource officer working to positively influence teens

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HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

They walk the halls at schools, gain students' trust in the lunchroom, and likely coach a sport outside of the building. They’re not teachers, they’re officers inside your child's school.

School Resource Officers work on positively influencing teens inside and outside of the classroom.

It’s time to change classes at Brainerd High School, and students flood the halls. Before they hit the books, they bump fists with a man in blue.

Officer Marty Ray knows many of the 600 students by name, but they all know his. 

Officer Ray has worked in law enforcement for 22 years, seven of those spent inside Brainerd High.

It’s an assignment he admits he wasn't thrilled about at first.

"Within a week, I called my lieutenant back and said don't worry about it I want to stay here at Brainerd, because I loved it,” Officer Ray said.

SRO’s like Ray are sworn officers and have the same responsibilities as those who patrol the streets. He’s one of 26 across Hamilton County serving middle and high schools.

He secures the building, but it's the security he offers students like Kiara that matters most.

"I get angry really fast, and I tend to go from 0 to 1000,” Kiara explained.

Officer Ray's approach is simple, he sits students down with his ‘friend,’ a deflated football he affectionately calls ‘Tom Brady.’

Students’ squeeze it, toss it, and talk their problems out with a man who is more like a mentor. It’s an unlikely match up in a neighborhood where Ray said police and community can be divided.

"Having them come up to you and say, 'Officer Ray, you know you're the only 12 I mess with,' because I don't like the 12 out on the street,” Ray said.

"Nobody wants to talk to no police officer, nobody wants to have a relationship with them or they going to catch you a snitch something like, but I don't think of it like that,” Kiara added.

The division dissolves with each relationship Officer Ray builds.

"I’m a white officer in an inner-city school, a lot of people say that don't work, but it does,” Officer Ray exclaimed.

Last year, 63 percent of Brainerd students were chronically absent and the school administration issued 328 suspensions. Officer Ray believes his work can make a difference.

"If I can show them a positive role model here, they might go home and say, 'you know what? Instead of smoking this weed today, I’m not going to do that.' or instead of 'I’m going to beat up this kid today, I’m not going to do that,’ he said.

It's that positive influence that encouraged Stevin Burton to become an officer. Before he was a Chattanooga Police officer he was one of Ray's students.

"He didn't take me as a joke. He believed in me and always told me I could do it and I would do it,” Burton said.

Burton said he never would have considered a career in law enforcement if it wasn't for Officer Ray and the other police officers in his neighborhood.

"The relationship never stopped, it didn’t stop after high school. I feel like even if I didn't volunteer here at Brainerd I could still call him any time,” Burton said.

When Burton graduated from the academy it was Officer Ray who pinned his badge.

"A resource officer is a little different because they see firsthand some of the things that officers in the community may not see,” explained Burton.

"It gives you pride, and to me it just sends a warm feeling all down me because that means I made some kind of impact on the child's life,” Officer Ray said.

Most officers will tell you, it takes a special person to be an SRO. Beyond the badge, he's a teacher and his lesson plan is basic - respect for all students, kids he considers to be his own.

Student Resource Officers are funded by the Hamilton County Sheriffs Office, the Chattanooga Police Department and Federal grants.
 by next school year, the county hopes to add five more.

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