Jimmy Billings has the best job in the world.
Billings is the school resource officer with the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office at Nevils Elementary School. He was nominated by school staff as an Everyday Hero, but he doesn’t think he is one.
After graduating from high school at Statesboro High, Billings went straight into law enforcement. He’s now been with the BCSO for 25 years, and has worked in the jail, as a patrol officer and now supervises the SROs throughout the county.
“This has definitely been the most rewarding. It’s the best job in the world anybody could ever have,” he said.
Billings started at Nevils last academic year. Two years ago, when there was no SRO at the school, Billings had the unfortunate assignment to go to the school and arrest a student. He couldn’t get that kid off his mind, and wanted to do something to prevent the same thing from happening in the future.
“It was too late. The kid had already done something. But I thought, what if I could have stopped it?” he said.
Billings talked to the sheriff, and asked if he could supervise while in the field and work at Nevils, and the sheriff agreed to it.
Once he arrived at the school, Billings said he was unsure where to begin. He’d never been in a school full-time as a resource officer, so he was open to the advice that he received from faculty and staff at the school. The one thing he was sure of, however, was that he wanted to seek out the student he had arrested, and try to build a relationship with him.
The two became friends, with Billings stopping by his classroom each day to check on his progress. If the boy was having a bad day, Billings said he’d ask the teacher if they could go for a walk and talk it out. He gave advice to the young man, who became a model student. The pair even had their own handshake, which Billings taught the SRO at the middle school, where the boy is now. He asked the SRO there to carry on the relationship with the boy.
“To have that avenue for him, I think, is huge,” he said.
Billings starts his day at Nevils just after 6 a.m., checking the gates and fences, and the perimeter around the school to be sure everything looks good, so the students and teachers feel safe. He then waits at the front door of the school during parent drop-off. He says it’s his favorite time of day.
“It’s better than any coffee that you’ll ever drink,” he says, smiling.
He holds the door open for students, helps get kids out of cars, and gives them high-fives, fist-bumps and hugs.
“I want to start their day off right. I want them to be happy. If they’re happy, if they’re in a good mood, they’re going to learn more. I try to brighten everybody’s day,” he said.
Billings makes the rounds in the school several times a day, dropping off paperwork for teachers or lunchroom staff as he goes. He stops by the gym and plays basketball or Foursquare with students when he has time, and says it’s all about building relationships.
Billings says having officers in the schools is a huge benefit for law enforcement as well.
“Law enforcement is going to be so much more successful if you have a community that trusts you,” he said. “Building that trust and coming out here and loving these kids is probably the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Billings says that some people have the idea that school resource officers should be put in a closet and pulled out when needed, when things go wrong and heavy-handed discipline is needed. He doesn’t agree with that mentality.
“In order to be effective, you have to build relationships. You have to interact with kids and teachers and all the staff. I try to be a resource to everybody, from custodians to teachers to administrators, to people who visit here,” he said.
Billings never thought he’d be working as a school resource officer, but he looks forward to seeing the kids every day, and says the rewards for the job are huge. He misses the kids during the summer, and even looks forward to Mondays, knowing he’ll be back in the school with them.
Billings got started working in the schools full-time in 2005 with the DARE program. DARE is the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program for students in the fifth grade, to prevent use of drugs, membership in gangs and violent behavior. School resource officers are required to re-certify in the DARE program annually.
Billings still works with the DARE program, as well as GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training), which is for students in the sixth grade. He says GREAT was chosen because it increases the chances for success for a child if there is reinforcement in back-to back years, as well as involvement in the school. GREAT, as part of the program, requires students to choose a project so they can invest in their school. The money for the projects comes from fines and seized items, not taxpayer money.
“If (students) invest in their school, then their school becomes a little bit more important to them,” Billings said.
DARE officer training isn’t easy, Billings said. The training lasts for two weeks, with long days, and SRO certification is included in those hours.
“We don’t want just anybody to go into the schools. We want them to have the blessings of DARE. To know that they have finished that course says to me that they are prepared, they are ready to go, they are ready to deal with the kids,” he said.
DARE training is also important for SROs because it deprograms them from the “go-go-go, beat your chest kind of thing,” Billings said. It teaches officers that they are crime prevention, rather than just catching people after the fact.
Billings has been supervisor for the SRO program since its inception in 2014. He says there are officers in most of the schools, with plans to add a new one each year until all schools have a full-time SRO. But there is a presence in each of the schools, even if it is just part-time.
When asked about being called a hero, Billings is quick to deflect the attention.
“I don’t think I’m a hero. It’s just my job. It’s a mission. It’s a mission that’s different. I think it’s the teachers that do this, all day, every day. The heroes at the school are the teachers,” he said.
Billings points to a post by one of the teachers at Nevils that he feels really sums up his job at the school — and his mission.
“At some point, we have to stop pulling people out of the river, and we have to go up river and see what’s causing them to be in the river. If we can get in front of it and show kids the right way, and develop these relationships with them, their lives are going to be a lot easier,” he said.