‘On the Job’ with SRO Korie Plummer: Relationships matter

August 27, 2015

Officer PlummerSchool Resource Officer Korie Plummer seems born to do the job she has chosen. With just the right mix of “mom” and “cop,” she is as at home in her role as informal counselor and mentor to students as she is peace keeper at the Bartlesville High School campus.

Plummer is a veteran police officer for the City of Bartlesville, employed by the police department but assigned to work as an “SRO” with the Bartlesville Public School District.

Though she’s been on the force for 18 years, her current “beat” is the high school, where she has served for the past three years.

“As an SRO, Korie is a mentor to students, she is an informal counselor to students and she instructs them in different areas of safety,” says her supervisor, BPD Lt. Kevin Ickleberry. “She’s available for staff if they have any criminal violations, such as tobacco, firearms or any other laws that might be broken on campus. And as a last resort, she’ll arrest students, depending on the severity of the crime.”

Indeed, Plummer is called upon to handle a vast assortment of issues and problems on any given day, ranging from writing the infrequent citation to dealing with extremely disruptive students — and even a few disruptive parents — to listening to students and helping them get them the help they need.

Building relationships

But Plummer’s primary focus, when she’s not handling more immediate or pressing matters, is working daily to build relationships with the students so they might respect authority while learning that not all interaction with law enforcement is negative.

“I want the kids to know there’s a person behind the uniform,” she says. “I don’t want them to generalize about me, that I’m just a police officer. I don’t want them to be scared. I want to be approachable and build relationships with them. I want them to get to know me as a person but understand that I have a job to do, at the same time.”

Traffic control

That “job” typically starts at 7:30 in the morning, where you can find Plummer, often with BPSD staff, directing traffic around the high school.

“I usually come in around 7:30 and help direct traffic,” Plummer says, noting that an influx of ninth-graders new to the high school facility this year has prompted a temporary need, at least, for traffic control around the facility.

“One of the perks about directing traffic is that when the kids are coming in I can talk to them and tell them, ‘Have a great day,’ or ‘Happy Friday,’ things like that,” she says. “I try very hard to build a rapport and trust with the kids, let them know I’m here for them.”

When time allows, Plummer makes sure she is present in the halls during class changes, not only so she can keep a watchful eye on the students but, more importantly, so she can interact with them, saying hi and effortlessly chatting with the few who stop to talk.

“I like to be in the hallway during class changes,” she says. “This year I haven’t been able to get a good routine going because I’ve been spending a lot of time in the principal’s office …. It’s been an unusual year, just because of having the ninth through 12th grades all in one place. It’s very busy.”

Principal LaDonna Chancellor echoes the sentiments of many BHS staff members in pointing to Plummer’s efforts to get to the know the students and her ability to handle any situation that comes up — always with the students’ best interest in mind.

“Korie does a great job just being a presence in the building,” says Chancellor. “She really puts a focus on creating relationships with the kids, which I appreciate because that is what we ask of every member of our staff — to make sure that is a priority with our students, because we know that sets the tone for a safe learning environment.”

A career begins

Plummer moved to Bartlesville and began her career with BPD in 1997, after serving as a volunteer cadet with the Springfield, Mo., Police Department. She chose Bartlesville, she says, because she liked the department, but also to be closer to her grandmother.

“I spent some time talking to (then) Lt. Steve Johnson, learning about the department and the things they had to offer,” Plummer says. “Bicycle patrol is really what got my attention. It was definitely a perk.”

Plumber completed her training and primarily worked “Charlie” shift, or “evenings,” while also volunteering for the BPD’s Bicycle Patrol program, patrolling Pathfinder and working special events until the program was discontinued, about two years later.

DARE — Making an impression

In 2001, she began serving a two-year stint as the department’s DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer, teaching drug prevention education in Bartlesville schools until the program, along with the existing SRO program, was discontinued at the direction of a former police chief.

She returned to the Patrol Division, where her duties included serving a year as an “FTO” — field training officer — on night shift.

But Plummer — along with a few others — never gave up on the idea of putting police officers back in local schools.

SRO program reinstated

Thanks to their efforts, the SRO program was reinstated in December 2012.

Plummer was a natural choice for the job.

“The staff at the high school asked for her as their SRO because they had worked with her as a DARE officer,” Ickleberry said. “They work well with her and they trust her, and they trust her judgment.

“Korie is very ethical. She has strong moral values. She’s honest,” he says. “She’s a hard worker; she’ll do anything you ask her do. She’s a rule follower — she’s very strong on rules, strong on the law — and she’s good with people. She’s firm and solid but also kind and considerate.”

One of the people who lobbied to put the SRO program back in the schools was Kerry Ickleberry, BPSD Safe and Drug Free School coordinator — who is also a stanch advocate of Plummer’s work.

“The Bartlesville Public School District is very blessed to have School Resource Officer Korie Plummer serve our district,” she says. “She is a great example of what a school resource officer should be, handling her duties as a law enforcement officer very professionally and ethically. Officer Plummer serves as a mentor and educator to our students and staff.

“She is a positive influence for our students and cares very much for all people in general. She is definitely a part of the Bruin family.”

Firearms instructor

In between her assignments instructing DARE and as an SRO, Plummer earned her CLEET (Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training) certification in firearms instruction and is one of only two female firearms instructors in Oklahoma — a noteworthy distinction and one that carries with it a hidden meaning: Plummer is a darn good shot.

“Oh,” she dismisses the suggestion with a wave of her hand and laughs. ““I do my best,” she says.

“There have been firearms instructors in recent years who worked with me and showed me the ‘new’ technique, and it took me from just being able to qualify (meet requirements) to bringing in some nice targets.”

But even better than “nice targets” is helping a fellow officer become better, she says.

“The thing I love most about (being a firearms instructor) is working with somebody who’s struggling, and then finding that little nugget of knowledge that really helps it click for them, and seeing them bring it all together and really help them become better — that’s what’s important to me,” she says. “I love it.”

“Korie is a very disciplined shooter. Her abilities to self-diagnose problems and make corrections without difficulty enable her to consistently perform very well,” says BPD Rangemaster Sgt. Brian Brewington. “Korie is one of those that doesn’t have bad days on the range — she is either really good or great.

“As an instructor, she demonstrates uncommon patience with students, and she never gives up on a student when they are struggling. She figures out how to dig a little deeper when a student is having a hard time and finds a way to communicate what she is needing from them to see them through to being successful.”

Best thing about the job

To know Plummer is to know she is a positive-thinking person. When asked to name what she likes best about being an SRO, she has too many to list.

“There are a lot of positives about my job!” she says. “Some people say, ‘Oh, I could never do what you do,’ because dealing with some of the kids can be difficult, but I try to explain to them that most of the kids are very good. You have a small percentage of the population who create most of our work, which is very much a mirror to our society. That’s typically how it plays out in regular police work — the majority of people don’t cause any problems, but you have a small number who create a large part of your work.”

Most challenging

When pressed to name the most challenging issues for an SRO, Plummer points to a lack of respect for authority among some of today’s youth.

“I think definitely the biggest challenge is dealing with kids who don’t respect anyone in authority,” she says. “I try to earn the respect of the kids by treating them with respect. It’s difficult sometimes when you’ve done everything you can to treat them with respect, while still doing your job … and you can’t earn that respect from them, for some reason.

“I don’t demand their respect, but I want to earn it. A lot of them have told me they don’t like police, but even this year I’ve worked on some of those kids — we’ve had conversations, and now they see me as a person. I say, ‘Just understand that if you’ve had a bad experience with one police officer — or more than one — you can’t assume that we’re all like that. Don’t put us under the same umbrella. Just like I shouldn’t do that with any other group of people — I should never make assumptions, and I don’t.’ I’ve had some students like that, who I’ve actually developed positive relationships with, whereas at the beginning of the year, they saw me as an adversary. I’ve worked on that.

“It’s not a cakewalk, by any means,” she concedes. “Often times I’m called upon to diffuse a very heated situation. Sometimes we have students that are extremely angry and causing a disturbance. There are some who are very difficult to deal with because they don’t have respect for anyone in authority.”

Plummer says that over time, though, she has been able to build relationships with some of those harder-to-win-over kids, and because of that, she has been able to “talk some sense into them” during more challenging times.

Letting go

Plummer, who is married and has two children, 8 and 10, echoes the sentiments of most parents when she talks about the most rewarding aspects of the job — watching students grow up and move on to the next phase of their lives.

“Most of these kids are amazing,” she says. “I love the interaction with them, and seeing them grow …

“When they go through graduation, that’s a very special night. It’s a very exciting time, to see them move on. But it’s also sad, at the same time, because there are a lot of them, who have graduated, that I miss.”

She admits that it’s nice when a student comes back to say “thanks” for a job well done.

“I’ll have kids that come up to me and say, ‘Officer Plummer!’ They’ll come up and give me a hug … I feel like I’m in a perfect position to be able to have a positive influence on kids, and I love that ability to be a mentor to some of them. As an officer, I enjoy helping people. I don’t want to sound cliché … but when you help someone through a difficult situation and they remember you and thank you … that’s always rewarding. When you feel like you’re a positive light for someone in a very difficult time, that’s really nice. I get a lot of reward out of that. “

What’s next

Plummer says she plans to do her best to keep building bridges between local students and law enforcement, with an eye toward bringing more SROs on-board in the future. Plummer is one of two SROs assigned to BPSD campuses. While Plummer is responsible for the high school, BPD Officer Chris Bullen is assigned to the remaining BPSD schools.

“I thoroughly enjoy working at the schools, and I hope that we can eventually have more SROs, where we can really work with the kids and do even more of the things we want to do as part of the SRO program,” Plummer says.

In addition to safety, she would like to see more opportunities to provide education to students about things like Fourth Amendment rights, Internet safety or “whatever it might be.”

“That’s one of the roles that we should be fulfilling,” she says. “And then there’s also that informal counselor role. I’ve had many students over the past few years come up to me and say, ‘Officer Korie, I need to talk to you.’ And then they pull me aside, and maybe it’s just something they need to get off their chest … but I’m someone that several students have felt comfortable enough that they want to talk to me, just to have someone to talk to.”

Plummer says some of those talks have resulted in enlisting aid from other agencies, such as the Department of Human Services, to provide the appropriate care for the student in need.

“I enjoy being that person they feel comfortable coming to for help. I had one who was really having a tough time, and I was able to get her to the right person to get her through that. And that means a lot. It’s a special relationship that means so much,” she says.

Plummer says additional SROs in the schools would allow local law enforcement to begin building positive relationships with the community’s youth beginning at younger ages, which could go a long way is driving crime rates down in the future.

“We hope to get more SROs so we can spend more time with younger kids, too,” she says. “If they get used to seeing us in the schools as an elementary student, then as they work their way up, we’ll already have a relationship with them so when we deal with them here, they’ll know us and we’ll know them. Hopefully, we’ll be able to handle them better and better help them as well.

“That’s a goal of mine. In the long term, it helps the community. Some kids haven’t had a positive law enforcement experience. And we need to try and work through some of those barriers with those kids.”

The cost of the Bartlesville SRO program consists of the salaries of Plummer and Bullen, which are paid from the City’s General Fund, consisting of sales tax revenues. The City is reimbursed for half the cost by the Bartlesville Public School District.