Shadowing Atholton’s Finest
Rapper KRS-One once said “Woop-woop! That’s the sound of the police! Woop-woop! That’s the sound of the beast.” Police officers are mistakenly perceived as the enemy, known only for impeding on teenagers’ weekend activities and sometimes ruining their social lives. Although they may seem evil, they are here to do their job by making our community a better place. With National Police Week right around the corner, starting on May 15, it is time that we honor one of Atholton’s finest, our very own Student Resource Officer, Officer Matthews.
A day in the life of Officer Matthews is not exactly your typical episode of COPS. There are no high-speed chases, sirens, gunshots, or adrenaline rush. He is seen periodically throughout the building, often spotted standing in the lobby, walking down the halls, or sometimes even sitting in his office. With 23 years of law enforcement experience behind him, Officer Matthews keeps the Atholton community in safe hands.
“I chose the Student Resource Officer program for a number of reasons. Number one was the schedule. In public safety, a consistent schedule is something you don’t see very often. The other part was that I really felt a commitment to communicate with teens. I honestly try to relate to the teen population and do my part to try to keep them out of negative contact with law enforcement, because all contact with police doesn’t have to be negative,” Officer Matthews said. “I know with the teen population, it’s sometimes perceived as if we are the enemy. We really aren’t. That’s the purpose of the program: to put you in a situation where you can enjoy and interact with young people without the negative means immediately there.”
While on duty at Atholton, Officer Matthews believes that talking to the students, listening to what they have to say, and resolving their problems can really make a difference. Prior to Atholton, Officer Matthews worked as a Student Resource Officer at Long Reach High School.
“I took a week-long class for the position. It was 40 hours of pretty intense work. I am a member of the National Association of School Resource Officers, too. We have conferences annually to discuss trends and things that are going on with the youth, which provides a lot of insight,” he said.
Trends occurring within the student body at Atholton are generally consistent with what goes on in other schools in the county. Although Atholton is fortunately not as action-packed as other schools, there are still a few occurrences that Officer Matthews has to handle.
“There are a certain amount of issues that do have to be dealt with. There are thefts that occur, fights, and some drug activity here, which I’m sure you all are more aware of than I am,” said Officer Matthews. “And when you have a population as large as Atholton when there are fourteen, fifteen-hundred people, some of whom are more trustworthy than others, theft is pretty common.”
These problems are normal, given that they happen every year at every school in the county. However, there have been an unusually large number of fights occurring at Atholton this year. Luckily, Officer Matthews has been trained to deal with these problems once they occur.
“If I observe the fight, then of course I am going to intervene and separate the parties. What most frequently occurs is that I’m in post after the fight, which is when I normally become involved. If it’s determined that a student assaulted another student, then criminal charges may apply. If someone assaulted you, for example, and came up to you and attacked you, then that constitutes an assault. If I observed a fight, I have the right to put the handcuffs on that person, take them out of the building, and take them down for processing, as any other criminal,” said Officer Matthews.
In his 23 years on the job, Officer Matthews has been more than just a Student Resource Officer. When he first started out in 1988, he began as a patrol officer, and then worked his way up the law enforcement ladder.
“Everyone starts at patrol. Those are the officers you see patrolling your neighborhoods, who respond to calls for service, look for traffic offensives and other criminal violations. Then I became a detective and I investigated burglaries for a number of years. After, I moved onto violent crimes which included investigations of your more personal crimes, such as murder, rape, felonies, and assaults,” said Officer Matthews.
Although becoming an SRO took a small amount of training, a lot of training went into detective work, which he did for six years.
Along with his patrol, detective, and investigation work, Officer Matthews was also trained to become a drug recognition expert. This role he played is both to determine if a person is under the influence and identify what type of drug it is through a series of tests. Even though this type of work seems exciting, it is also alarming at the same time.
“You have to understand that when you put on the uniform, you are not only walking around and in a marked police car, but wearing a uniform that clearly identifies you as authority. Not everyone in our society respects or appreciates authority, so you have to know that you are somewhat of a target just in your daily carrying out your job. A healthy dose of fear, not paranoia, but a healthy dose of fear keeps you sharp. It helps you to stay alert,” said Officer Matthews. “I think the possibility exists that in society if there were no police, if there were no authority, then what would we have? Chaos and an unruly kind of society. The same would apply here at Atholton. We would have chaos here.”
As part of the backbone of the Atholton administration, Officer Matthews protects us and keeps us safe from harm. Students and teachers alike agree that he is one of the most important figures in our community, risking his own life to keep us safe.
“Atholton is lucky to have Officer Matthews working with our students. He represents our community with respect and dignity,” said Mr. Babe.
Officer Matthews is more than just a Student Resource Officer to our community. He provides guidance and support to whoever needs his assistance. Not only does he improve our school, but is always on duty in Howard County as well.
“He’s the only cool cop in Howard County!” said Senior Ladeinde Akerele.
No matter what time or what day it is, as long as Officer Matthews is in Howard County, he is still considered on duty. Although his job at Atholton is not as exciting as it may seem, he is constantly working to make our environment as calm as possible.
“There are no quotas cops have to meet. That is a common myth,” said Officer Matthews. “Almost as bad as the stereotype that all cops eat donuts. We don’t all eat donuts.”