Beyond the call of duty

Posted on 11 May 2016

Story and Photos by

Brandon O’Connor

gaines2For seventeen years Officer Maurice Gaines has walked the halls as a school police officer in Decatur County Schools. He starts each day by assisting with student drop-off at Hutto Middle School. Some parents drop their kids off across the street so he works to make sure each kid makes it safely across the road and onto the school’s property.

After drop-off has concluded Gaines, or “OG” as the students and faculty alike call him, makes his morning rounds with principal Roy Mathews. As he walks through the halls students swarm him begging for a moment of his time.

They reach out for high fives, call greetings and swap stories about recent events. He takes time for each student and listens intently to each of his or her stories.

On the morning I visited him, one kid told Gaines about the football that hit him in the eye at the first middle school spring football practice the day before.

“OG” followed along before asking the most important question of all “Did you catch it?”

The sixth grader broke into a smile as he triumphantly answered that “Yes” he did make the catch.

From there his walk continued. He paused to console a student who appeared upset and he checked on students who were in the hallway to make sure they were where they were supposed to be. Then he returned to his office with its perpetually open door.

“We talk to them, mentor them,” Gaines said. “I’ve got an open door policy. Come in we can talk. Before you get in trouble let’s talk about it. Now you get in trouble its too late we can’t talk there is no need.”

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His official role may be as a police officer working to keep the school safe, but for Officer Gaines the call of duty goes beyond that. He is a mentor, a friend and a father figure for the students he interacts with everyday.

“I don’t like for them to see me as just as an officer, but as a male,’ Gaines said. “A black male, because a lot of time a black youth man so a black male that can talk to them and can somewhat relate to them from time to time. I can relate to a lot of things that kids in this area go through. I’ve been there I was young I remember how things were.”

Outside of rounds and duties at Hutto, Gaines also makes an effort to spend time at the elementary schools throughout the county so that he can start building relationships with students who will eventually attend Hutto.

“I try every day if not every other day to visit all the elementary schools because that’s what they going to see when they get here just me,” Gaines said. “I go around and give them high fives, talk to them if they want to talk, listen to their little stories about the cat and the dog.”

GainesDecatur County has the advantage that their police officers work only in the school.

They are not part-time employees that are moonlighting before or after their shift with the Sheriff’s Office of Public Safety.

Gaines says that that makes all the difference because they can focus solely on helping students and building those relationships.

“We don’t work all we do is the schools, but we don’t have to go out and work at night then come in,” Gaines said. “Plus being able to be here with my kids because all three of my kids came through.”

From dealing with reports of bullying to handling minor thefts Gaines said that each day presents its own challenges, but that he always approaches them with the same goal.

“If I can change one kid’s direction if its going wrong and I make it right that’s a good thing for me,” Gaines said. “I want to think that I’ve had a pretty good positive impact.”

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