Safety In School: Relationships, Commitment at Center of Resource Officer’s Long Career

April 24, 2018

By Lindsay Cuomo

School safety is at the forefront of many minds these days, but no one thinks about it more than Sgt. Joel Formby, a school resource officer with the Norman Police Department. Formby spends his days with scores of sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Whittier Middle School.

“I spend my days hanging out with kids,” Formby said. “I am a parent of seven, and I consider myself a dad that just happens to wear a gun belt. When I am on the job, I feel like just another parent in the building. These are all my kids, and I will do whatever I need to do to protect them.”

Formby has been with the Norman Police Department for 28 years, and most of that time, he has worked as a school resource officer.

“I am considered the old guy now,” Formby said. “I really enjoy being around kids, and I’ve always felt there was a need for police in schools. It was an obvious fit for me.”

Before joining the Norman Police Department, Formby was in the U.S. Air Force, serving as a military policeman.

“As soon as I got out of the Air Force, I applied with Norman PD,” Formby said.

Formby says it’s easy to misunderstand what school resource officers actually do. But he sees his role at the school in the relationships he has built with the students, school staff and parents.

“Often, we are seen as just people with guns, but middle school is a real hard time, and kids today face more challenges than I did way back when,” Formby explained. “I want them to understand that someone cares for them, and I do all that I can and use all my resources to help them.”

“I have an open-door policy,” Formby said. “Kids come in my room for quiet time. It’s a safe spot for them to hang out. They don’t even have to say anything to me.”

From hanging out in the halls and lunch room to sitting in on parent conferences, Formby wants to be a person that students feel they can confide in. It is with that in mind that Formby helped form a student group called Wednesday Warriors.

Formby and Jason Sanders, the middle school’s sixth grade assistant principle, identified a select group of sixth grade boys they felt could benefit from some positive interaction. The Wednesday Warriors meetings provide a safe environment for the boys to be together, separate from their everyday pressures.

“We eat pizza, talk about grades and have community mentors,” Formby said. “We talk about life skills and the boys share about their issues, and I help them make a plan. We have seen great results.”

Because of the success of the Wednesday Warriors program and Formby’s years of experience, he is now expanding the program to students in seventh and eighth grades, as well.

“Students need to come to school and be able to focus on school. I think it should be a place to flourish,” Formby said. “It takes a special kind of person to be a school resource officer.”  – BSM