School Resource Officer Sgt. Bill West is passionate about school safety and building better understanding between students and law enforcement.
“The bottom line is we are there for school safety as law enforcement officers to keep schools safe,” West said.
The Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office was the first county department in Tennessee to implement the school resource officers program in 1993 at Riverdale, Oakland and La Vergne high schools and Central and Smyrna middle schools.
Now, SROs are assigned to every school in the Rutherford County Schools system.
West, the last of the five original SROs, is retiring this month after 36 years in law enforcement. He previously worked as a patrol deputy and detective where he was instrumental in helping form the SWAT Team.
As an SRO, he worked at Central Middle School for nine years, supervised other SROs eight years and served 10 years at Brown’s Chapel Elementary School. He serves his second term as president of the National School Resource Officers Association and teaches new SROs throughout the country.
When he started as the first SRO at then-Central Middle School, Principal Butch Vaughn, the staff, teachers and students welcomed West. The community understood the SROs were to there to protect students.
“We felt like the students and teachers felt safer because they saw a police officer there,” West remembered. “That allowed the students to relax and do better in school.”
Teacher Rose Marie Shipley allowed him to team teach with her. Basketball Coach Ron Couey chose him as an assistant basketball coach where he coached now SRO Shane Vaughn. West helped start Club Pride for drug awareness and coordinated the annual Red Ribbon Week in the county, a proactive approach to drug abuse prevention and education.
“It was all about relationships,” West said.
He remembers one student he arrested for simple possession of marijuana. Because of the relationship West built, the student asked him to fix his tie before he entered the courtroom.
Those relationships spread. West and his wife, Lynn, were shopping when a former student stopped and told his preschool son, “I want you to meet this guy. This guy meant a lot to your daddy when I was young.”
SRO Joseph Rigsby told West he wanted to be an SRO because of the impression West left on him.
During a peaceful protest at the Sheriff’s Office this month, he watched videos of sheriff’s deputies and SROs hugging former students. He believes the trusting relationship between SROs and students opened conversations.
After eight years in supervision, West transferred to Brown’s Chapel Elementary School. Some of the teachers were his students from Central.
Some of his highlights there include:
- · Coaching the archery team where the students advanced to the national competition six consecutive years.
- · Implementing his idea about books to teach younger students about school safety. West coordinated with Librarian Kimberly Barlow, art teacher Amanda Henry and the former music teacher and gifted students to produce the book “Stop Look Listen”.
West planned to tell his students about his retirement but COVID-19 prevented the personal message.
“That’s the only disappointing part that I didn’t get to say goodbye to them,” West said, adding he plans to visit next year.
“I’ve been so blessed,” West said of his job as an SRO. “It’s been a good career.”