SRO enjoys protecting, interacting with studentsAugust 25, 2021
By CANDY NEAL
A new person is roaming the halls of Southeast Dubois’ school buildings.
And while that person is wearing radios and safety gear, his face always has a smile and he always has a kind word or greeting for anyone he passes.
He is Dubois County Sheriff Deputy Eric Hopkins, Southeast’s new school resource officer. Hopkins, 32, started the position this school year.
“I’ve wanted this position for a long time,” he said.
The Southeast Dubois County School Corporation has a contract with the sheriff’s office for a school resource officer. When the SRO position was established and became available a couple of months ago, Hopkins applied and became a sheriff’s deputy to fill the SRO position.
“I always thought that if they did get an SRO, that would be something that would be right up my alley,” Hopkins said. “It would be law enforcement and I’d still be part of these kids’ lives and could be a positive role model for them.”
Hopkins is a Jasper native and 2007 graduate of Jasper High School. He studied criminology at Indiana State University. He worked for Wabash Valley Produce in Dubois for a couple of years before becoming a reserve officer with the Ferdinand Police Department in 2014.
“You have the responsibilities of a full-time police officer, but you get more of your training in and you’re volunteering your time,” he said of being a reserve officer.
He liked Ferdinand and wanted to be more involved in the community. So he applied to become an assistant football coach. He held that position from 2014 until last school year. It was through that position that he got to know students and their families, as well as the staff, he said.
In 2015, he became a full-time Ferdinand Police Department officer, and stayed in that job until he moved into his current SRO job.
Hopkins and his friends in high school wanted to go into law enforcement. “When we were going through high school and deciding what kind of majors we want to pursue in college, quite a few of us went into criminal justice or criminology,” he said. “Several of my best friends are in the law enforcement career. It’s just something we all kind of went into together.”
Hopkins’ day starts with him teaching a criminal justice class at Forest Park during first period. He has 30 high school students. Because of his experience, Hopkins has a workplace specialists license to teach a vocational class in this specialty.
This is his first time teaching students.
“I never thought I would be in like a teacher-type role. But it’s probably my favorite part of the new gig,” he said. “It’s a great way to get to know these kids. It’s an elective class. So the kids that sign up for it truly do have an interest in criminal justice, whether they want to be law enforcement later on, or they want to go to law school.”
Hopkins plans to bring in professionals from various criminal justice fields to speak to the students. “We just had our first guest speaker this past week,” he said. “One of the deputy prosecutors, Brian Lucchi, came and spoke to the class. We’re going to try to get other guest speakers from all sorts of fields from criminal justice, and let these kids see what opportunities there are out there.”
After his class, Hopkins makes rounds visiting the district’s four schools: Forest Park Junior-Senior High School, Cedar Crest Intermediate School, Ferdinand Elementary and Pine Ridge Elementary. He spends most of his time each day at a different school.
“All four of those schools are my responsibility,” he said. “So I am getting to know all the kids here, forming relationships and a good rapport.”
Creating those connections are important. “One of the main goals of a school resource officer is developing these relationships,” Hopkins said. “So if the kids have problems here or at home, I would be somebody that they feel safe coming and talking to. It could be a broad range of problems that they have. But you know, that’s just one of the many aspects of it, to be here for them.”
He also takes care of the physical safety duties as well, checking outside doors, perusing the halls and responding to any safety emergencies that happen in the schools or on school property.
“If there’s ever any kind of incident at school, it’s my job to investigate,” he said. “There’s not too many criminal situations.”
But his job entails more than just checking for possible physical threats.
“It’s more than being a security guard, which is the image I think a lot of people have,” Hopkins said. “It’s more of a relationship role and building rapport with students. That’s the main goal of it.”
So Hopkins can been seen on the playground or shooting some hoops with the kids. As he walks the hallways, he greets students. Sometimes he ducks his head into a class. He’s at sports games and school events. “I want to let them get to know me,” he said. “I want all the students to know that if they have an issue, they can always talk to me in private. I’m always available to talk.
“That’s been my thing with all the teachers, too,” he continued. “Anybody who wants my phone number can have it. I never turn my phone off. They can call me day or night with any kind of professional or personal problem they have, and I’m going to try to help them fix it.”
With the help of guidance counselors, Hopkins especially seeks out the students considered to be at-risk. “I want to form a relationship with them now while they’re young,” he said.
When school is on summer or winter break, Hopkins will work at the sheriff’s office as a deputy.
Outside of work, Hopkins enjoys sports. He is in a relationship with Kelli Faulkenberg and spends most of his free time with her and her sons, 9-year-old Garrett and 6-year-old Mitch.
“I’m really excited for Kelli’s boys to start getting into sports,” he said. “I’m going to maybe help Garrett, who is starting his first year of tackle football this year. I’m hoping to help him out by coaching this year; so I may do a little bit of that.”
These first few weeks of school have gone well. “This teaching role is very new to me, but I’ve kind of really sunk my teeth into it,” Hopkins said. “That has made it exciting for me, because it’s something different.
“I’ve done law enforcement for seven years now. And I still love the job. And I’m going to continue to always love the law enforcement side of it,” he said. “But forming relationships with students that I never would have before is really becoming exciting for me the past couple of weeks.”
Hopkins is glad he has an opportunity to serve in the law enforcement capacity and to interact with young people on a daily basis.
“Part of my job is to look for environmental things that would be unsafe to the kids,” he said. “But overall, my main job is to harbor a safe environment for these kids to learn.”
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