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‘Surprise, Sarge!’

HJHS, HPD surprise officer with promotion ceremony


Hartselle Police Department’s Robert Baker said his one year working as the school resource officer at Hartselle Junior High School has given him a new perspective on his career in law enforcement – but also lifelong lessons and bonds he will take with him back on patrol.

The nearly 20-year veteran of law enforcement was sworn in as the department’s newest sergeant Aug. 26 during a surprise ceremony at the school.

Principal Rocky Smith said Baker has been an important part of the HJHS school family.

“His promotion will be bittersweet for him,” Smith said to a group of students in the library. “He loves this school and loves each and every one of you.

Baker was sworn in by Chief Justin Barley and then pinned by his wife Jamie. Their daughter, Audrey, was in attendance for her father’s promotion.

Robert, Jamie and Audrey Baker.

“I don’t know what to say. This is absolutely a shocking surprise, and I wouldn’t want anybody here but y’all,” Baker said through tears. “Y’all have changed how I police and helped me get to this point. Thank you.”

Baker will soon go back to patrol. Officer Brad Freeman will take his place as the SRO at HJHS.

Baker said going through the process to rise to sergeant, he realized he learned a lot from his year as a school resource officer.

“I realized how much I have changed and how much I can bring to the community and the department since being the SRO,” Baker said. “I think everyone in the department should have the opportunity to come to a school and experience this. It’s been the greatest change in my 19 years in law enforcement.

“It’s changed my perspective and the way I approach my job,” he added, “from almost two decades of doing something one way to saying ‘I’m going to do something different and step outside of my comfort zone.’ If we start here, and we do it right by building relationships and these bonds, then they’re going to pay off for us in law enforcement. They’re going to pay off in the community in the long run.

“This is an absolutely wonderful group of kids, and I hate to leave, and I enjoyed my time here a lot more than I thought I would. I love these kids as my own.

“We’re here to protect them; we’re here to teach them.”

Baker said his job as a police officer is all about the community he serves.

“It’s more than just answering calls and writing tickets. It’s looking at the big picture,” he said. We’re here for the citizens, and we’re here for the community.

“We have goals at the end of the day, sure, but we’re supposed to be available for everybody. This experience will definitely help me when I go back out on the road.

“It has helped me become a more well-rounded officer and individual.”