One of the biggest needs for a School Resource Officer is the ability to connect with the students. Frank Cates, the SRO at West Hopkins School, prides himself on his relationship with not only the staff but mostly the students.
“Nothing against the adults, but I love the kids,” he said.
Eric Stone, the West Hopkins Principal, said it is rare to find someone as dedicated to his on-campus duties as Cates has been and continues to be.
“We consider ourselves fortunate to be blessed with this incredibly dependable officer,” he said. “We can always locate him in times of need, and no matter what he is dealing with at the time; he jumps in to help out.”
Cates’ career started in January 1992 when he joined the Henderson Police Department. He worked in every position in the agency until he retired in 2017 as the Assistant Chief. Cates also joined the Indiana National Guard in 1989 and retired as a warrant officer.
He said his favorite part of working for the police was the interaction he had with the public.
“It got to the point in Henderson that it was no longer fun for me because I spent the majority of the time as assistant chief dealing with personnel issues than it was policing the community,” said Cates.
When he retired from the Henderson Police Department, Cates said he planned to stay retired. He had worked and put in the hours, now he wanted to spend time with his family.
About a year and a half after retiring, Cates and his wife are working on building a house in Eddyville to be close to his in-laws when he got a call from Will Coursey.
“He used to work for me as a young sergeant back in Henderson in the mid to late 90s,” said Cates.
“He left us and went back home to Hopkins County and started working for the Hopkins County Sheriff.”
Coursey needed Cates to help him out and fill in at a school for an SRO who had to retire due to medical issues. Cates said Coursey just needed him to fill in for the rest of the school year, about four months, and he would hire someone during the summer to take over.
Cates told him he needed to talk to his wife, and he needed to pray about it. He asked if it was a high school because he didn’t want to work in a high school, but was assured it was a middle school.
“One Sunday after church, [my wife and I] came out to the ridge. We drove around here and the first thing I noticed was why does a middle school have a playground,” said Cates. “My buddy forgot to tell me that it was k-8th in one location.”
He started with Hopkins County Sheriff’s Department in January 2019 and only planned to be at West Hopkins for four months.
“Here I am almost four years later, and the reason is when I got out here, I fell in love with the family environment,” said Cates.
He has loved being around children all his life, he has raised two daughters and has several grandchildren.
“I told my wife the good Lord knew what he was doing when he told me to say yes out here, and the good Lord knew it was going to be more than four months,” said Cates.
He loves interacting with the students and always tries to greet every kid in the morning when they get off the bus or out of the car. Cates said the middle schoolers just ignore him most of the time, but the elementary students always want a hug. He always goes into the lunchroom when the kids are eating to help open milk or ketchup packets.
Cates said his wife had knee surgery last week so he was gone all week to take care of her. He said some of the little kids thought he retired again.
“They were tickled to death to see me on Monday of this week,” he said.
Cates said this is his favorite job out of all that he has had, and it is a coveted role for law enforcement once they retire.
“I get paid to do this,” he said. “I’m not locking criminals up. I’m not having to justify why my numbers are low. It is a major difference.”
He said some of the students refer to him as their school dad and even introduced him to their parents that way when they had a fall festival a few weeks ago. They introduce him as their school dad because that is the way he treats them, like his own children.
Stone said Cates looks at the students and his role not as a paycheck, but as people who need care and guidance.
“He takes the time to learn about each of them and their unique problems, and he seeks to assist them in whatever capacity he can,” said Stone.
Cates said his wife asks him when he will retire from being an SRO, and he tells her when it is no longer fun.