HOWARD — School resource officers set the tone for safety at school districts, and Deputy David Nally with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office, is no exception with his role at East Knox Local School District. He has made safety and positive reinforcement the cornerstone of his position within the district.
“I have always tried to live my life in service to others,” Nally said. “And if there’s any silver lining in all of these school shootings and tragedies we’ve had, it’s the fact that it allows us the opportunities as SROs to interact with young people in a very personal way.”
Nally has been a deputy sheriff in Ohio for 23 years, he said. He recently relocated back into the East Knox district, he explained, after about 12 years away from the area. He explained that with this position he and his family made the decision to relocate and immerse themselves within the entire community.
“Law enforcement today we don’t have time to proactively police, we have to react to everything,” he said. “So the ability to be able to interact with these kids in a proactive way — I just think is awesome.”
The concept of school resource officers is not a new one, Nally explained, as they actually originated in Flint, Michigan. They brought in their first SRO in 1958, he said, with the explicit goal of improving relations between law enforcement and the youth.
Nally is a first-year SRO at East Knox schools, serving both the elementary school and the junior and senior high schools. He explained that there was some apprehension from students when he first started at the beginning of the school year.
“Obviously the first week of school, kids that have been here for their whole lives and suddenly coming in after never seeing an officer here before, there was obviously some apprehension,” he said. “But as I explained to them that all the schools in Knox County now have school resource officers and we’re here, not because there’s a problem with East Knox, but we want to make sure that there isn’t one, you can just see the relief come across their faces.”
Nally explained that the relationship that is fostered between law enforcement and students through his role as an SRO is so necessary today because of changes in society over the past few decades.
“There is a need for positive role modeling, and in some ways it has disproportionally shifted that burden to the school system,” he said. “And primarily, there’s just way more things for young people to get tripped up in today than ever before. Overuse of technology, cyber threats, there’s more people living in slavery today, there’s human trafficking, there’s just so many more things that are competing for the hearts and lives of our young people today.”
In this vein, Nally explained that he has a great opportunity to lessen the distrust and disrespect that many young people feel towards law enforcement.
Safety is a primary portion of Nally’s position, and he utilizes an acronym of EAST to explain “why I am here.”
“That is very simply Everybody Always Staying Safe Together,” he said. “That really emulates the reason that I’m here. And I explain to them that when we talk about safety, that safety covers a wide range of topics. When we talk about issues of safety, that covers the things that we talk about and more, including natural disasters and disaster preparedness.”
Along with his goals of disaster and safety preparation education, Nally said that he has one singular goal in mind when he puts on his uniform every day.
“If I had to list for you a single goal, it would be my hope that every student here would end their time at East Knox knowing that I am here because I care,” he said. “I just think it’s a real honor to be a part of these kids’ lives.”
With two schools in his jurisdiction, Nally explained that he always makes himself available to students during group settings, such as lunch duty, so that he’s accessible and constantly interacting with the students. He also explained that he would have a difficult time choosing between the high schools and the elementary school.
“There is just such a wealth of opportunity to interact with those youngsters, before there are problems,” he said. “Forming a respect and rapport for law enforcement early on, heading off drugs and bullying, some of the things that really trip these kids up. And to teach them the importance of maintaining good friendships and making good decisions. These kids are dealt a lot of adversity and dealt a lot of difficult circumstances. We all have issues, things come up in all of our lives, it’s not that there’s not ever going to be absence of issues, but it’s how we respond when they come up. So, if we can be involved with these kids and from a threat and threat assessment stand point, impact their decision making, then we can impact an entire generation going into the future.”
Nally attended an SRO training academy over the summer, he said, with 120 other officers, 85 of which were first time school resource officers.
Speaking with students at East Knox high school, they explained that having Nally at the school “makes them feel safe.” They said that Nally has made it a point to stop at every classroom and introduce himself as a resource for the student body, and that he is “such a nice guy,” and if there was ever an incident they “feel comfortable knowing that he is there for them” and “they can go to him with their issues.”
Nally feels that having the SROs in schools could have tremendous societal dividends, as they have the opportunity to positively impact entire generations growing up, through their daily interactions with students. He explained that there are two roles in an SRO position: keeping schools safe and making a difference in the lives of students.
There are many rewarding aspects to Nally’s job in the school district, he said, but the biggest reward for him is the sense of relief his position can give to the staff and students at East Knox schools.
‘The opportunities I have to interact with the kids are great — but I would say the single most rewarding thing has been when I ask the kids what they think of an officer being here, you can almost see the look of relief come across their faces,” he said.