Harry “Chip” Richards has been working as a DeKalb County School Resource Officer for 19 years, he serves at the Geraldine School where just over 1,000 students are enrolled in Pre-K through 12th grade. His duties cover a broad area of responsibilities including teaching the criminal justice class, doing home welfare checks, handling disruptive students, guest speaking in the driver’s education class and guarding the school campus grounds against intruders.
Students who take his criminal justice class are enrolled in it for the entire school year and receive instruction for 40 minutes on a wide range of subjects. The curriculum is not devised by the Sheriff’s Department, but rather by the school system under whose purview the class falls. Curriculum includes topics such as search and seizure, fingerprinting, K-9 units, and the basic duties of law enforcement and first responders.
Richards’ class this year has an enrollment of 19 students, it is currently the largest class taking the course in the county. The students range in age from 14 to 18.
SRO Supervisor Lieutenant Tony Bartley said, “This is our pilot year for the criminal justice class. It is our hope that by taking this class some of the students will consider a career in public service, whether they choose to become a police officer, a criminal forensic investigator, firefighter, public defender, or paramedic,” he said.
“Currently the community college [Northeast Alabama Community College] offers an advanced course, but it would be nice if our youth could avail themselves to a class along these lines at the DeKalb County Technology Center in Rainsville, that is a goal we have.”
The men and women placed in the position to serve the DeKalb County school system as SROs are highly qualified. Richards has accumulated an impressive list of qualifications since joining the sheriff’s office in 1982.
In 1983 he set a record in weightlifting and received the Alabama Police Olympics Gold Medal. During his tenure as a deputy sheriff he has been awarded the Medal of Valor for saving a student from choking. He became a Boy Scout counselor in 2019 and works with suicide intervention. Richards is also a D.A.R.E. instructor.
“A few years ago, one of the students made a big mistake and ended up expelled from school for a year,” Richards said. “My wife and I had him come over and visit at our home to encourage him to get back on track. Sometimes kids just need a helping hand to realize it’s not the end of the world when they mess up. We don’t want to stereotype them. He is doing good now.”
It is readily recognizable by anyone who witnesses Richards and the students that the students respect him and realize he cares about them. Having these officers within the school system does more than just offer protection. The bonds being formed can only generate better relations between the public and the men and women who choose to serve and protect society.
– This column, written by Marla Ballard, will appear as a series in the Times-Journal weekend editions to feature DeKalb County School Resource Officers. A series highlighting the SROs in the Fort Payne City School System will follow.