BY CADE CAUFIELD
‘We all want to know that somebody loves us.’
Today I had the opportunity to meet with Matthew McGill. Matthew (Matt) is a Deputy of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. McGill has served the citizens of Jefferson County for 23 years, four of those in the SRO (School Resource Officer) Division. For the 19 years McGill was on patrol, most of his time was spent in Center Point, AL. When asked what patrol was like, McGill said it was just like any other job, with good days, and bad ones. He said the days were filled with stress and had little downtime. McGill said, ”We tried to make it fun most of the time, but when it was time to get the job done, we handled business.”
I asked McGill what the most significant differences are between working on patrol, and in the school. He said, “I think the most significant difference is that when working with kids and teenagers, you have to let them know you care about their livelihood and success. When you are 12, 13, 14 years old; that is an important time in your life, you are becoming who you are.” McGill said that he takes the approach of teaching rather than scolding any opportunity that he can. He says, “We all need that one thing, we all want to know that somebody loves us.”
McGill and I talked about the reward that comes with the job. I asked him if it was easier to see student behavior changes. He agreed that the reward is greater when he can see the changes. McGill said, ”Working in the school, it is more about learning, and giving students the chance to learn from their mistakes.” McGill mentioned a particular student he met, in his first year at Bragg Middle School. He said the student was a seventh grader who always found himself in trouble. McGill said that he built a relationship with the student and was able to work with him, offering his office as a place to ‘cool down.’ McGill went on to tell me when the student advanced to the eighth grade, those disciplinary problems were non-existent. He said,” It is a process, and I enjoy it.”
Gardendale Schools have a unique advantage that other schools may not. The elementary school, middle school, and high school all have campuses that border each other. This makes day-to-day operations easier for students, faculty, and staff. It also allows for all three of the SROs to work closely with one another. McGill says, ”We work closely with one another and stay in contact daily.” The SROs are at the schools to be seen and to protect the people inside of their school, I asked McGill if they had plans of action in place, should something horrible happen. He said, ”We do. We train every opportunity we can.” He went on to tell me that they use live-fire sim rounds to simulate an active shooter situation, to better their ability in an active shooter situation. When asked if he was confident in the protocols and procedures set in place he said, ”Very much so.” Knowing that the deputies serving in our schools are confident in their ability, and training to handle active shooter situations, gives parents, teachers, and students more peace of mind.
McGill’s involvement in Gardendale Schools stretches much farther than being in uniform from 7-3. As well as working security for home sporting events, McGill sat behind the table in plain clothes, keeping the scorebook for basketball games. During baseball season McGill kept stats during all of the games and even made every practice, helping to coach. It is a reality that some people are not as comfortable as others in the presence of a uniformed officer. I asked McGill if being around students, while out of uniform in ‘Rocket-gear,’ has allowed for a better relationship with the students. He said, “Absolutely! It gives them an opportunity to see us as real people, we are not robots.” McGill says that he lives in the community, and he thinks that it is good for students to see their SRO supporting them. He said, “I don’t have to be there, but I enjoy it. I grew up playing sports, and I’ve always enjoyed being around it, and I just want to see them do good.” He finished up our conversation by saying, “I’m just glad to be here.”
I have had the pleasure of getting to know Deputy McGill very well during his time at Bragg. He is truly a man that cares about people. The community is very blessed to have Deputy McGill.