DCPS officer named SRO of the year for West Kentucky

Katie Hunter was school resource officer in late 2022 at Ohio County High School when she received a call from Daviess County Sheriff Brad Youngman. At the time, Youngman had just been elected sheriff, and was stepping down as head of the Daviess County Public Schools Police Department.

“(Youngman) called and said they’d be hiring over here,” at the county schools police department, Hunter said. The opportunity was “too good to be true,” Hunter said.

Hunter, who has been Apollo High School’s officer for a year and a half as a member of the DCPS Police Department, was recognized for her work recently, when she was named the Western Region School Resource Officer of the Year by the Kentucky Association of School Resource Officers.

The association provides information and support for school resource officers, to help them excel in their roles at schools, according to the organization’s website.

SROs and school police officers are sworn law enforcement officers with professional training and certifications, but there’s more to the job than just ensuring school safety.

The officers wear a variety of hats, including teaching and working with staff, and helping regularly connecting with students.

Hunter, who was a detective with the Ohio County Sheriff’s Office, described her first day as a school resource officer at OCHS as “culture shock.”

When Hunter joined the DCPS staff and began work at Apollo, there was a period of adjustment.

“The size of the school, the student body, the opportunities, it’s night and day, Hunter said of Apollo. The AHS students, who had previously had a male police officer stationed at the school, had to get used to her presence, Hunter said.

“You’re thrown into the student body as a police office and as a female,” she said. “It took a few months, and some interesting looks, to start building relationships. Now, those are the kids that come see me and joke around.”

Hunter said she’ll go into classrooms and teach students about subjects that are relevant to them, such as about drugs, relationship violence, bullying and safety. Part of that includes teaching student about accountability, Hunter said.

“I want them to know they are safe here, but there are consequences” for actions that break the law, Hunter said, and that she tells students, “’I’m just telling you this because I genuinely want you to listen, and to be a good adult.’ ”

When a student does get into trouble and Hunter is called, she tries to make it a learning experience, while also being respectful to the student, she said.

“When I do have to do my job here, I let them know, ‘you knew the rules,’ ” Hunter said, and that she conveys she’s doing her duty, “but it’s not out of hate.”

“I don’t enjoy seeing them in trouble,” Hunter said. “I do have a job to do, and they respect that. The majority know I’m here for their safety.”

The relationships Hunter builds with students happens naturally, and she and the students talk in the halls, in classes or at Hunter’s office. Hunter said she is always offering a listening ear for students who have concerns or irritations on their minds.

“If you get in here and invest in them and talk to them and love on them, you get to see who they really are, not the (surface), but their hearts and personalities,” she said. “That’s the best part of the job.

“I get questions I never thought I’d get, and answers I didn’t ask for,” Hunter said. “They’ll tell you what they’re thinking, or just did.”

The young women students especially come to Hunter to talk about issues, she said.

“They’ll talk about who they are seeing, or their goals,” she said. “I love those conversations.”

Hunter said she lets students know she’s at Apollo for a reason.

“I’m very blunt” with students, Hunter said. “I’m here because I love and care for them.”

Hunter was nominated to be Western SRO of the year, a process that involved school officials writing a letter of support for the nomination.

“I wasn’t aware there was an ‘SRO of the year’ thing. I was just doing my job,” Hunter said.

Receiving the recognition was “super-unexpected,” she said.

“I’m very honored,” Hunter said.

While Hunter hasn’t seen the school’s letter of support for her nomination, “it really means a lot to know my school would write something like that,” she said. “They’re busy, so taking the time (to write the letter) is an honor.”