SRO Whitman explains his role in Hgtn. schools

tanding in downtown Huntington with his police car is school resource officer Ben Whitman. Whitman graduated from Huntington North High School in 2009 and is now a school resource officer there.
tanding in downtown Huntington with his police car is school resource officer Ben Whitman. Whitman graduated from Huntington North High School in 2009 and is now a school resource officer there. Photo by Lori Overmyer.

The Huntington County Community School Corporation (HCCSC) school resource officer (SRO) Ben Whitman may not have realized he was training for his job.

Whitman, a 2009 Huntington North High School (HNHS) grad, joined the Navy and studied business administration at Ivy Tech, but found his place at Pathfinder Services and as a paraprofessional working with emotionally disabled students at HNHS.

“Both jobs were rewarding,” he said.

Little did Whitman know he was preparing for a future with all HCCSC students.

He had the opportunity to talk with Huntington Police Chief Chad Hacker as both worked lunches at the high school.

“I idolized him,” Whitman said, “and he talked to me a lot about law enforcement. I ended up getting on with the department and spent three or four years on the road.”

With his background building relationships with special needs students and adults as well as his time on the road, Whitman was ready for HCCSC.

Whitman admits his first couple of years as an SRO were stressful figuring out where he belonged and what was needed the most.

Crediting an “awesome administration,” Whitman said, “I feel well supported. They (administrators) know when to call me.”

To help everyone understand their roles and what is needed to keep students and schools safe, Jamie Craft, principal at Roanoke Elementary School, chairs the Safety Committee. Members include Whitman, Huntington County prosecutor, probation department representative, Huntington County sheriff, Hacker, a representative from Huntington Emergency Management Agency, the school nurse and the high school dean of students.

HCCSC superintendent Chad Daugherty credits the collaboration with giving “peace of mind for safety.”

Daugherty, however, realizes Whitman is spread thin.

“We’re blessed to have Ben,” he said. “We don’t want to burn him out.”

Both Daugherty and Hacker recognize the importance of Whitman’s role in the Huntington schools as he builds relationships with students rather than disciplining them.

“My job is the opposite of discipline,” Whitman said. “I want kids to learn about consequences at a young age so they don’t end up in trouble. I like to tell them ‘school is your job and there are things you can’t do at work.’ I share with them the mistakes I’ve made so they can relate to me.”

For him, being from Huntington is an advantage for building relationships with the students. Whitman said, “I try to relate to the kids. I understand the stress of being here at school, in sports and extracurriculars. I grew up here.”

Whitman also knows and understands that kids want attention. “I’m trying to find those kids that are more isolated to build relationships with them,” he said.

Whitman recalls one young man that was often late to school and with other issues. He frustrated the administration, and he wanted to be isolated, even choosing to eat lunch in Whitman’s office. Then, his environment changed. The student was moved to a different foster family. He came to school on time with clean, new clothes. His attitude had changed.

“This was one of the moments in my career where I thought, ‘Why didn’t I see this from the get-go?’” Whitman said, “I have to remember the students’ environments.”

As he works to cement relationships with students during the day, other officers do assist. At the high school, officers supervise lunch, so Whitman can visit the other schools in the county. That time in the cafeteria gives those officers the chance to start building relationships, which both Daugherty and Hacker encourage.

For Daugherty and HCCSC, they see the collaboration as part of school safety and building relationships with students, parents, and the community. Daugherty’s goal is to have an SRO in each middle school that also works with the feeder elementary schools. Hacker would like to have enough officers to build the SRO program, but for now that’s not available. Hacker does encourage his officers to interact with young people at every opportunity.

Captain Chris McCutcheon, Whitman’s direct supervisor, said, “The chief allows for overtime and flexibility.”

Whitman added, “Officers often attend sporting events and other school activities. We really want the kiddos to see our support.” “I know you!” is one of McCutcheon’s favorite phrases to hear. It often represents the number of generations that have had a positive experience with HPD.

The SRO program is part of Hacker’s overall vision for his officers. “It’s all about relationships. I want them to be visible, be around, and be seen. Talk and interact with people,” he said.

Whitman takes pride in his uniform, building relationships with HCCSC students, and providing safety as students learn.