- Associated Press - Sunday, May 6, 2018

NEW IBERIA, La. (AP) - A familiar face with a firm handshake, a word of caution when needed and a smile to assure students that even law enforcement officers have a sense of humor is a service that School Resource Officer James Wallace has been providing to Westgate High School students for the past 20 years.

“I met Mr. Wallace a few years ago at my church, said junior Tamahje Oliver. “It feels comfortable. I’m at home because he’s not just an officer at school he’s a motivator. He’ll make sure you’re going to the right class and he’ll ask you, ‘How are you doing today?’ “

Wallace credits relationship building as an essential resource in handling situations that may arise on Westgate High’s campus. While school shootings have been a major area of concern and public attention, Wallace said the things he’s called on most often to address stem from other issues.

“The major difference between the street and the school are the crimes we deal with,” Wallace said. “Here we have issues of stealing, fighting and occasionally you may get a situation where because of someone’s home life they start talking about things that aren’t healthy and we are mandatory reporters so we contact OCS (Office of Child Services).”

Because Wallace is a familiar face in the hallways of Westgate, opportunities have presented themselves to become more than a man in uniform but a mentor and counselor to many.

“That presence over time has given students a chance to see not only the uniform, but the person behind the uniform,” Wallace said. “So they have a person they can go to when they’re in need … not just when a crime takes place.”

Wallace has made such a favorable impression on Emily Breaux that she asked him to fill in for her ring ceremony this year, an invitation he gladly accepted.

“I was ecstatic,” Breaux said. “I can go to him for anything. He’s really an outgoing person. He’s like a father-figure.”

The image of having a friendly officer to relate to is a relationship connection Wallace said he hopes carries into the community

“The basic presence gives an opportunity for students to see us (officers) in a different light,” Wallace said. “Even away from school they can feel comfortable talking to an officer because they have seen one at school in a resource officer.”

A number of Westgate students said they have benefited from Wallace’s positive example within the police community.

“To me he’s nothing like what other people think about officers, senior Ernest Dejean III said. “He’s like a father to everybody around here.”

Wallace said there are four school resource officers in Iberia Parish. Besides Westgate, there are also officers at New Iberia Senior High, Anderson Middle School and Iberia Middle School.

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Information from: The Daily Iberian, http://www.iberianet.com


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