Retiring school resource officer trains successor
“He’s doing really well. He’s catching onto it,” said Flora.
Bobbitt, a Versailles police officer for 10 years, had already shown an interest in becoming a school resource officer (SRO) when Flora realized they had a similar approach to the job.
“You’ve got to have somebody with a good personality,” said Flora. “You’ve got to be able to communicate with kids, be easy to work with.”
Positive relationships make students comfortable telling these police officers about what’s going on in their school so they can help prevent a bad situation from happening.
“What he’s doing really well that I really like,” said Flora of Bobbitt, “he’s being very sociable with the kids. Talking to them and cutting up with them as they walk by. And kids respond to that.”
By building a strong rapport with students, Flora said, “I think these kids … would tell you if something was going on” that might prevent a tragedy in their school.
In the aftermath of school shootings at Marshall County and Stoneman Douglas high schools, several WCHS students and their teachers have repeatedly told Flora and Bobbitt, “I feel so much safer with you guys in here.”
Flora and Bobbitt are both WCHS graduates who were born and raised in Woodford County. They appreciate being able to make a difference in their hometown, but neither set out to become a police officer.
Flora, who was working at Wild Turkey Distillery, credited Woodford County native Kirby Allen for encouraging him to pursue a career in law enforcement. He became an officer with the Lexington Police Department in 1986 – at age 31.
“Here I am 31 years later still doing it,” said Flora, 62.
Bobbitt was a senior at Woodford County High School when Flora was hired as his school’s first-ever SRO in January 1999.
Bobbitt intended to earn his living as a homebuilder (like his father) before the recession of 2008 changed his plans. Once he made the decision to pursue a career in law enforcement, people that he knew in high school told him “that fits.”
When Flora, who has a wife (Linda), four children and seven grandchildren, hears about a school tragedy like the recent shootings that killed two students in western Kentucky and 17 people in Parkland, Fla., he said, “It breaks my heart.”
“It does,” added Bobbitt, who has a wife, Anna Beth, and two children.
His three-year-old daughter, Marie, and seven-month-old son, Logan, will be going to public school so Bobbitt wants to do his part to ensure students in this community are as safe as possible, he said.
“I don’t know how you prevent it (from ever happening),” said Flora. But he said having a school resource officer in a building does help deter violence.
“Keeping your eyes open, investigating any and every tip to the fullest extent” are two ways to prevent violent acts from happening in schools, said Bobbitt, 38.
He and Flora said they would not hesitate to get between a shooter and his intended targets.
“It’s muscle memory. It just takes over. That’s what you’re going to do,” Bobbitt explained. Police officers are trained to go into a school and confront a shooter, the SROs agreed.
“I know that if I go after this guy something’s going to happen. Either I’m going to try to take him out or he’s going to take me out, but I’m going to go down trying,” said Flora.
He described having positive relationships and open lines of communication with students as the key to preventing a tragic event because “they are our biggest resource.”
Flora credited being raised in a low-income neighborhood on Oak Street for giving him a good rapport with people from all socioeconomic backgrounds. “People are people to me,” he said.
In his years as a SRO, Flora said he’s always understood the importance of being accessible – especially during times of tragedy. If he received information from first responders about a student losing his or her life in an auto accident, he was always quick to pick up the phone and talk to high school social worker Sara Swinford so she could have grief counselors available for students the next morning.
Flora said he could reach Swinford by telephone – day or night – whenever he needed her.
While Flora was never responsible for disciplining students for breaking school rules, he would regularly remind them about consequences. He’d explain to students what would happen to them if they break the law as adults.
“We do a lot of counseling in this job,” said Flora of being a SRO.
With over 1,200 students and 90 adults at WCHS, Flora said his workdays were often hectic.
He said unfortunately many of the teens who regularly get into trouble are born into horrible situations where it’s extremely difficult for them to turn their lives around.
“Some do, but it’s because you’ve got great people in this school who work with them and try to help them,” said Flora. “If there’s a kid that has a problem in this school … I am so impressed with the way they bend over backwards trying to help kids in this school.”
When Flora began his career as Woodford County High School’s SRO in January 1999, he’d already been a SRO at Anderson County High School for a couple of years. He was also certified by the National Association of School Resource Officers and received state certification at Eastern Kentucky University.
Bobbitt will also get his state SRO certification in Richmond.
“We’re fortunate,” said Flora, “because there are a lot of communities that do not have policemen in the school. They can’t afford it. So we’re blessed to have one (SRO) at the middle school (David Buntain) and one here.” With the necessary funding, Flora predicted more police officers will be working in Woodford County schools.
In response to the recent school shootings, the district’s two school resource officers no longer direct traffic outside of WCHS or Woodford County Middle School. Other Versailles police officers direct traffic in the mornings and afternoons so the SROs are able to monitor what’s happening in and around the school buildings to keep students safer.