School resource officer Pete Smith has donned all of the police hats. He’s been on patrol, he’s led investigations as a detective and now, he’s maintaining order at Knightdale High.
The town and the police department recognized Smith as the 2014 Police Officer of the Year at the March 2 town council meeting. This isn’t the first time Smith has won, either. The Zebulon police department named him officer of the year in 2008 and in 2010.
The leadership committee that considered his nomination particularly observed Smith’s visibility while patrolling the town’s greenways and parks when Knightdale High School is not in session. He also launched the Public Safety Academy program at KHS as well as other school safety initiatives.
Originally from Florida, the Johnston County resident moved to the Triangle area in the late 1990s. Back then, he worked as a master automotive technician at a car dealership. Smith, 42, decided to switch to law enforcement in 2007 when he started with the Zebulon police force as a patrol officer.
After a year and a half, he was promoted to detective, completing some significant investigations with the department including a multi-agency drug bust four years ago.
That role, he said, was the highlight of his career so far.
“It was very rewarding, fun and enjoyable to work...we got a lot of drugs off the street,” Smith said.
In May 2013, Smith moved to the Knightdale department and transitioned into the student resource officer role – only Knightdale High School’s second SRO.
Every school day, Smith works to develop rapport with the students. Outside school hours, he’ll show up to athletic events, sometimes to work, but often to show his support.
“When you have relationship with kids, it knocks down boundaries and allows them to confide about school or personal life or to ask for general advice,” he said. “I’ve spoken with kids who don’t have a father or mother in their life and yearn for it. They’ll say, ‘My mom or dad wouldn’t even comment on me making good grades, but you did.’”
Smith has three teenagers of his own, and he thinks that knowing how students think, or the latest trends, gives him an advantage in his relationships.
“Everyone loves us in elemenatry school,” he said of children’s responses to officers. “But in high school there are some that are hesitant, some don’t dislike us, and others that don’t know if they can walk up and talk to me because I’m in a uniform – I’m still human and a father of kids their ages.”
Driving awareness presentation, which are very hands-on and sometimes involve actors and a mock crash scene, are some of Smith’s most memorable events as an SRO. He can witness what hits home for students. It’s also rewarding, he said, when students tell him that his words of advice made a difference.
And then, there’s returning a lost or stolen cell phone.
“The look on the kids’ faces – it’s amazing – it’s like you just gave them a bar of gold,” he said.
Knightdale High School Principal James Argent said that Smith is very student-centered.
“He understands that students make mistakes and uses every opportunity to be a learning experience for students. We feel very fortunate to have such a high-quality person as our school resource officer,” Argent said.
As Knightdale Police Chief Lawrence Capps recognized Smith in front of the council, he echoed those sentiments, pointing out that Smith interacts with numerous factors from faculty and staff to school regulations and represents his profession with excellence.