After a career in law enforcement dating back to 1985, including more than a decade as Highland County’s DARE officer, Sgt. Bobby Stroop is retiring from the Highland County Sheriff’s Office.
Stroop said Tuesday that it has been somewhat “emotional” to wind down his time as DARE officer, and he’s been getting a fond sendoff from the schools as he prepares for his final program graduation ceremonies, as well as being honored with a top DARE award from the state.
Serving as DARE officer “was an adventure that grew into a lifestyle,” said Stroop, whose last day will be May 31.
Thousands of students across Highland County’s five school districts have not only learned about the dangers of alcohol abuse and illegal narcotics from Stroop, but they often shared with him the positive impact DARE – which stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education – had on their lives.
“My family is a really big drug family,” a 7th grade girl wrote to Stroop a couple of years ago. “They have been in and out of jail for heroin, meth, weed and more. They have happy hour at my great grandpa’s house. They drink wine, beer and tequila… Even I got offered a drink by my aunt. I quickly said, ‘No thank you’ and excused myself from dinner…”
The student continued, “DARE has helped me in more than just saying no. It has helped me know that it’s ok to be you, that you don’t need to be ashamed of yourself… It taught me that I am beautiful no matter what the world tells me. It taught me that I can be whoever I make myself. I can be a straight A student, perfect attendance, and Honor Roll. I can be on the National Juniors Honors Society. I can be me. It helped me learn to love being me and love my life.”
Letters like that are not uncommon. Stroop said teachers and law enforcement officials are often the most trusted people in the lives of children who do not have positive home environments.
“Lots of parents don’t take the time to listen,” said Stroop. If they do, “children will tell you a lot. They want the guidance and security.”
Stroop joined the United States Air Force just a couple of weeks after his graduation from Lynchburg-Clay High School in 1985. He served with the Air Force security police for nearly a decade. When he was ready to leave the Air Force, he applied for a job with the Highland County Sheriff’s Office.
Stroop recalls that in January 1995 his Air Force service ended one day at midnight, and then-sheriff Tom Horst “called at 8 a.m. the next morning” to offer him a job.
Stroop joined the sheriff’s office as a corrections officer, moving to road patrol duty in 1999. When former DARE officer Rod Puckett left the post in 2006, Ron Ward, who was sheriff by then, asked Stroop if he wanted to step in.
Stroop didn’t hesitate. He had helped raise money for the program in the past, and, “I liked working with kids,” he said.
Stroop said the impact DARE has had is evident in a number of ways. He said youngsters who attended DARE courses often approach him and pull their DARE cards out of their pockets or wallets to show him they still carry them. He said at one memorable DARE graduation ceremony, a girl came across the stage to receive her certificate, and as Stroop extended his hand, the student shook her head, instead opening her arms to give him a big hug.
He said the girl’s father had died of an overdose, and she had never been able to discuss it openly until she attended the DARE program.
In addition to teaching students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, he often speaks to employees at companies or agencies around the county. On Tuesday, he did a presentation at Weastec.
As Stroop prepares to step down – he hopes to keep working occasionally as a special deputy – his service is being recognized not only locally but across the state. Stroop, who served a term as president of the DARE Association of Ohio, was recently notified that he will be honored as the 2016-17 Larry R. Cox DARE Officer of the Year by DARE Ohio. The award is named in honor of a DARE officer in Chillicothe who was killed during a robbery in April, 2005.
Before becoming a DARE officer, and even in later years when schools were not in session, Stroop spent countless hours on road patrol often dealing with dangerous situations. He recalls being shot at, and dealing with violent episodes as part of various drug busts.
“I just thank God I made it this far,” he said.
Stroop and his wife, Richele, are the parents of two sons, A.J., who is graduating this year from Lynchburg-Clay and planning to attend Geneva College in Pennsylvania on a basketball scholarship, and Gavin, who will be a sophomore next year at Lynchburg.
With Stroop’s retirement, the future of the DARE program, which began in 1983, is uncertain. Sheriff Donnie Barrera said Tuesday the challenge is to find another officer interested in taking on the program, along with figuring out whether school resource officers – who are becoming more of a fixture in local schools – can fill the role.
When he became sheriff in January 2015, Barrera took DARE from a part-time to a full-time program. At the time he said, “With the drug epidemic you’ve got to have education.” Barrera said Stroop has been the ideal DARE officer.
“We’ve been friends for years,” said Barrera, adding, “I trained him for the road.”
He said Stroop will be missed for his contributions, his sense of humor, and “just being Bobby.”
A state grant has paid part of the DARE officer’s salary each year. Barrera said the deadline to apply for another round of DARE funding from the state was missed because an officer has to be attached to the grant application, and it had not been decided who would replace Stroop. But the sheriff said he attended a meeting in Columbus on Tuesday and thinks it’s still possible to obtain the funding.
But schools are increasingly utilizing their own resource officers, who are usually local police officers or special sheriff’s deputies who are shared with school districts. Hillsboro, Greenfield and Lynchburg-Clay currently have them, and their duties not only include providing security, but also mentoring, counseling and serving as positive role models and youth advocates. Barrera said the trend toward in-school resource officers might fulfill the role that has long been filled by a DARE officer.
But the sheriff said a final decision is yet to be made.
“Right now we’re just trying to figure out what to do,” he said. “We’re losing a tremendous resource with Bobby.”
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or by email at [email protected]