ORANGE BEACH — On the morning of Monday, June 6, School Resource Officers from across Alabama arrived at the Orange Beach Event Center to kick off the annual, weeklong Safe Schools Conference with the The Alabama Association of School Resource Officers.
SROs listened to discussions on issues such as vaping, the importance of mental health and how to develop strong leadership within school communities. Officers also received training for active shooter situations, NASRO Basic SRO training and NASRO Supervisor Management courses.
Before any training began, an awards ceremony was held to recognize SROs who have made a difference both on and off campus. This year, officers from the Bay Minette Police Department and Loxley Police Department were among the honorees.
Sgt. Gerald Biggs with Loxley received the Above and Beyond the Call of Duty Award. Biggs is an SRO at Loxley Elementary School. Beginning next school year, he will be the SRO at the new Stonebridge Elementary School. Three staff members nominated him to receive the award.
In his nomination, his peers said, "the positive influence that Sgt. Biggs has on the students and the staff at Loxley Elementary School is evident. He forms relationships with students by reading to them, teaching safety curriculum, sitting with them at lunch, playing basketball and being seen around campus. He serves as a mentor for students without a male role model."
Biggs created the Achieving Young Leaders Club at the school, providing mentorship, character development and positive team building experiences to students in the fifth and sixth grades.
Four officers in the Bay Minette PD's SRO Unit received the 2022 Team Award, which recognizes SROs who have made an impact in their schools and community. The unit consists of Sgt. Kendrick Banks, North Baldwin Center for Technology; Cpl. Jeff Weaver, Bay Minette Middle School; Officer Keith Lajoie, Baldwin County High School; and Officer Paul Adams, Bay Minette Elementary School. Banks also serves as the unit supervisor.
Their nominator and department chief, Al Tolbert, kept the award a surprise until the announcement.
"We appreciate the Association for recognizing what we already knew: our SROs are the best," Tolbert said. "Our team does a phenomenal job of working with and in our schools and is always looking for more ways to serve."
The Bay Minette SROs developed the Hourglass project over recent years, which coordinates special summer activities. Past activities have included fishing and hunting trips, visits to Alligator Alley, airboat rides and education opportunities such as college and industry tours.
The team participates in community events year-round, Tolbert said, setting up informational booths and participating in training courses to learn how to better serve their schools and community. The Bay Minette SROs spearhead the annual Shop with a Cop ahead of Christmas, providing a holiday shopping experience with local youth.
"Just last week, our School Resource Officers conducted a dunking booth fundraiser, which brings in $2,700 for the Baldwin County Special Olympics," Tolbert said on June 6. "Bay Minette Police Department and the City of Bay Minette are extremely proud of our SROs and the work they do every day to make our community better."
Officers from both departments were surprised to find friends, family, peers and school staff waiting to cheer them on as they received their awards. Nearly 20 awards were given to SROs from the state of Alabama.
"What I would like for this conference, and every year when you walk through these doors, is to get you ready," said Sgt. Pam Revels, Lee County Sheriff's Office and TAASRO president. "I say this every year, but this year I feel like we were really beat down. So I want to pick us up, get us ready, get back to where we need to be — on the front line, ready to go. That's what this is to me, and this is what I want this to be to you. It's a community effort; not one person can do it alone."