HORSE CAVE — A new piece of state legislation, commonly referred to has Senate Bill 1, is requiring school systems across the state to have certified school resource officers in each school as funds and personnel become available.
For the Caverna Independent School District, the timing couldn't have been more perfect.
Two former police officers, David Houchens and Rodney Sponhouse, who both recently retired, have been assigned to work as SROs at Caverna schools.
Houchens was recently hired by the Horse Cave Police Department for the position and will be assigned to Caverna High/Middle schools.
“This is something I've never done before and I'm really looking forward to something different,” Houchens said. “It's a new challenge. It's something really worth doing. I'm really excited about it.”
Heather Childress, chief of HCPD, explained that new state law changes the parameters of SROs.
“He will be strictly assigned as an SRO to the school. He won't be outside taking calls,” she said. “He will be at the school at all times, handling all the issues at the school. When the school's doors are open, he will be at the school.”
Houchens said he is looking forward to interacting with the students and hopefully, making a positive impact.
“The goal is to get him more one-on-one with the kids. I guess to lend a little bit more humanity to the fact. Let them see him as a person and let him become more of an interacting feature instead of just run in and run out, just seeing a person with a uniform,” Childress said, adding it allows the students to have a different perspective of a police officer.
She chose Houchens for the job because he has a wealth of knowledge and experience.
“A lot of people have gone to retired officers and things of that nature. I really wanted to kind of wean away from that for us because I wanted someone who wanted to engage with these kids, who still wanted to be involved,” she said. “I wanted somebody who could still see it from the kids' point of view. He's the perfect age for that and he's a dad, so he's gonna want to see it from the dad's perspective, as well as the officer's perspective and that's a big deal.”
Childress continued that being an SRO is not a job everyone can do and it's not an easy job.
“Not a lot of people want to be locked in a school all day with high school kids,” she said. “You have to want to do it.”
Sponhouse was hired by the Cave City Police Department and will be assigned to Caverna Elementary School.
“I'm excited about trying something I've never done before,” he said. “I'm excited to get out there and hang out with the little kids and talk and try to bond with them. I think it will be a good experience for me and for them also.”
His main goal is to keep everyone at the school safe, he said.
Darrell Butler, chief of CCPD, explained he was looking for a retired police officer to serve as the elementary school's SRO because they tend to blend in better in the school's environment.
“He's got experience. He's got kids. He knows how to be around kids more whereas a younger person, some of them may not have a family or have been around kids,” Butler said. “Rodney, I think he will be a good with kids. He's well qualified. He just retired this year from police work. I think it will be a great fit for him.”
Cornelius Faulkner, superintendent of Caverna Schools, explained the school system is partnering with the cities of Horse Cave and Cave City to pay the SROs' salaries.
He continued that the state law also requires the SROs to undergo training, which will be provided by the state.
“That training will give them their specific roles, but the main thing is the safety of our students and staff, making sure everything flows well with the community,” he said.
Faulkner said his personal goal for the SROs is to build relationships with faculty, staff and students that will help the two communities down the road.
“Sometimes I think our law enforcement gets (painted in) a negative light, and it will be great to see those relationships built with our students and families so they can see the officers are there to help and to be a part of our community,” he said. “Everybody plays a vital role in the community and this just another piece of it.”