Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

SRO’s role: ‘Keep them safe’

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of profiles of Unicoi County’s school resource officers.
By Kayla Carter
Staff Writer
[email protected]
Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Jason Tilson, stationed in the town of Unicoi for regular patrol since about 2005, can be seen at Unicoi Elementary School every morning and afternoon, ensuring the students’ safety.
Massachusetts Avenue, which runs in front of the elementary school, is dense with traffic during those times, he said, and his presence encourages motorists to slow down while the children are outside of the school.
“Where they get into their cars out there, it’s right in the road a little bit,” he said. “I try to keep people slowed down who don’t have kids that go there and want to drive through the school zone. Keeping those kids safe is the main thing.”
In addition to patrolling the town and monitoring the morning and evening traffic at the school, Tilson said he makes multiple passes through the school each day. “I’m there of a morning and of an evening,” he said. “I’ll go through two or three times during the day and walk through the school.”
Recently, funding was secured for school resource officers in the county, which allowed Tilson to be a more permanent fixture at Unicoi Elementary beginning this school year.
Unicoi Elementary Principal Michael Riddell said Tilson previously was not as active with the school, but recognized that he maintained as much of a presence as he could.
“Before, he couldn’t be here every single day,” Riddell said. “We can rely on him to be here now.”
If there is an emergency at the school, Tilson said he can be there in a matter of seconds. “I’m here close all the time,” he said. “It is very important to have an officer in the school system. The kids are our future. We’ve got to keep them safe.”
A week-long training course, which was administered the second week of July in Sevier County, was required for Tilson to secure the SRO title, he said.
“This is a first for me,” he said. “I’ve been here for a while, but this is the first SRO actually that I’ve ever done.”
The best thing about securing the SRO title, Tilson said, is having even more involvement with children.
“It’s just fun to see them every day,” he said. “They are all so sweet and I love being around kids.”
Riddell said having Tilson at the school is a huge benefit.
“He helps out tremendously by directing traffic and helping students get to and from school safely,” Riddell said. “The students love Jason and know him by name.”
Tilson said his fondest memory involving the students of Unicoi Elementary is receiving high-fives every day from a kindergarten class a few years back. “When kindergarten was out back, they had separate classrooms,” he said. “They would come out of the lunch room until they moved them into the main school and all of the kindergarteners would all line up and give me high-fives; every kid in kindergarten. I would have to give them, everyone, a high-five. If I wasn’t there, they were wondering where I was.”
He said that many of those students, who have now transferred to the intermediate and middle schools, remember, too.
“Still to this day, kids that were in those kindergarten classes, they’ll come up to me and want to give me a high-five,” he said. “If they recognize me in plain clothes and recognize who I am, they will give me a high-five.”
Tilson said relationships like this transcend through the whole community.
“I’ve been around here so long, I get along well with the people out here,” he said. “These people have always been good to me in this town.”
By his own assessment, Riddell said parents are very acquainted with and trust Tilson. “I think the community feels more secure about sending their children here knowing an officer is so close,” Riddell said.
Tilson said he wants to show children to not be afraid of police officers.
“I want to show them that there’s no fear,” he said. “I want to be there to show kids to not fear us. If something were to happen at their house and we go in and they see us, they could come to us and not be afraid. I don’t want them to be afraid of an officer.”
Tilson’s presence, Riddell said, creates a more positive atmosphere for the children and the whole school with regard to law enforcement.
“He is a positive role model in law enforcement for them to look up to,” he said. “The presence of an officer makes a difference.