Richland school resource officer honored for earning students’ respect, trust

Richland County Sheriff’s Senior Deputy Terrence Acox enjoys the opportunity he gets to make a difference in the lives of young people. It’s a mission he regularly embraces as the school resource officer at Lower Richland High School and one that has brought him praise.

His most recent accolade was a big one: He was named School Resource Officer of the Year by the South Carolina Association of School Resource Officers.

Acox was honored during the association’s 13th annual conference in Myrtle Beach the last week of June. The annual award recognizes a school resource officer for outstanding performance, student oriented enhancement, school violence prevention, and community support.

Acox received letters of endorsement from Richland 1 officials, parents, students and community members. He spoke recently about his commitment to his job and his hopes for young people.

What do you enjoy most about your work as a school resource officer?

Acox: “The thing I enjoy the most is making a difference and keeping my students safe - giving students an opportunity to come to school each day and not be in fear of being bullied or pressured into doing things that are not school related. Most of all, I like reassuring the students that I have an open door policy. Their problems are my problems, and together we will find a solution.”

What have you found to be one of the most important keys to working with and influencing young people?

Acox: “Understanding and respect. I preach all of the time to the younger generation. I tell them, ‘If you want to be respected in life, you have to give respect to earn respect.’ You also have to put the ball back in their court and believe in them enough that they will make the right decisions.”

How valuable do you think it is that youth view officers as mentors and helpers and not just as just people who arrest people?

Acox: “I think that it is very important. You have to let them know that it’s never personal. If the opportunity presents itself where an issue can be resolved by the administration or between the victim’s parents and the subject, then I let the final judgment come from them. If it’s drugs, weapons, alcohol or gang related issues, I cannot defer from those and the issues are settled (by the sheriff’s department). While making the arrest I educate the students and take the time to find out their arrest and behavior history. For the first offenders we defer them to our Youth Arbitration Program. For the repeat offenders we suggest the RCSD Ready Program or Camp Lott. You have to gain their trust and reassure them that we would rather resolve the matter rather than arrest them. Does it always help? No, not all of the time, but in the end they can truly say that they were given every opportunity to make a change.”

What are some specific things you do to project the former image?

Acox: “I maintain professionalism at all times, staying focused on the task at hand, implementing an open door policy and not being judgmental.”

Can you recall a particular memorable story about any interaction you’ve had that has reinforced your commitment to the job?

Acox: “Man, where do I start. Let’s see. Well, even though I have many, the one that sticks out the most is the big change that has happened at Lower Richland High School. My first three years that I was there, anytime you mentioned the name Lower Richland High School, people would have negative comments. Now it’s the total opposite. The student graduation rate, test scores, academic scholarships, and student enrollment have increased greatly. The overall perception of the school is now remarkable. Now, instead of parents in the area sending their kids to other schools, they are returning to Lower Richland. The changes by the district to bring in Mr. Kelvin Wymbs (as principal) has been amazing, and the hard work of existing and new administrators has worked wonderfully. All of these accomplishments, to me, are priceless.”

What was your reaction to being named School Resource Officer of the Year?

Acox: “Shocked, overwhelmed, thankful and lost for words. And most of all, grateful.”

What is the biggest piece of advice you have for young people who may be considering a career in law enforcement?

Acox: “Being a law enforcement officer is an honor. If you want to become an officer only for the purpose of wearing a badge, either to have power or to be disrespectful to others, then this is definitely not the career choice. You have to respect others in order to be respected.

“It does not matter about color, race, gender or size; I treat everyone the same. I wear my badge with pride and integrity every single day.

“For most officers, when we leave home, we leave our wives and children to put our lives on the line to serve and protect. We strive to do our best at our job because we love what we do.”