Teenage banter Thursday in the Payson High School parking lot centered on the special affinity students have for school resource officer Steve Montgomery.
"More cops should be like him," Payson High School junior Hilary Armenta said.
Fellow student Ashley Smith agreed. "He understands and he listens to you, it's like he cares."
The students' outpouring praise of the officer could make his shoes tough to fill when his replacement is chosen later this spring. After three years at Rim Country Middle School, Payson Center for Success and PHS, Montgomery is due to be rotated to another position within the Payson Police Department.
Junior Brad Meyocks sees a special trait in Montgomery that teens don't notice in some other law enforcement officers.
"When he sees us, he waves or he'll stop and talk," he said. "It's not like he's all the time out to bust you; waiting for you to make a mistake."
Monique Heppler enjoys telling about Montgomery receiving a report her older sister had been speeding near the school.
"He went out in the parking lot during class time and put a note on my sister's car that said ‘slow down, I'll be watching you'," she said. "I think my sister slowed down after that."
For Montgomery, that gesture was simply part of his job.
"I try to do a lot of prevention," he said. "I try to stop them from getting tickets ... I know their parents are probably paying for their insurance and (receiving) tickets makes it even tougher financially (on the parents)."
Montgomery has some well-chosen words for the new SRO.
"I'd just tell whoever it is coming in to be a good listener and to be patient -- kids are kids," Montgomery said. "Let them express themselves, sometimes they say and do things without thinking."
Montgomery's philosophy has been a success. During his tenure at the three Payson schools, he's been able to handle defiant and hostile teens without having to turn physical.
"Some kids are mad at the world and they blow up but you have to try to talk them down," Montgomery said. "If an officer or a teacher gets their respect, they can do that."
Montgomery's contributions to teens are obvious even to those in the PUSD district office.
"He's such an asset to all of us. He's invaluable in what he does," receptionist Susan Campbell said.
RCMS principal Frank Larby concurred: "Officer Montgomery is an indispensable part of our school community. He works very well with students and parents."
Montgomery admitted to mixed feelings. A good law enforcement officer, he said, should always be looking for new challenges, but he'll miss the relationships developed during his time at the schools.
"The kids that were freshmen when I came in are now juniors, I've got to see them grow up," he said. "And the teachers and administration at all three schools have been so cooperative, it's made the job enjoyable and a lot of fun."
While the responsibilities of some SROs at larger schools in the Valley and Tucson might be to curtail criminal activity and enforce laws, Montgomery has been able to spend time teaching and counseling.
PHS social studies teacher Bob Hoyt calls upon Montgomery before each spring prom to teach the hazards of drinking and driving. At RCMS, social studies teacher Ted Tatum brings Montgomery in to lead a unit on prejudice and respect for differences in one another. Other teachers want him in for substance abuse education.
"All of those (subjects) are a challenge to teach successfully," Montgomery said.
With the school year about at an end, Montgomery is focusing on what his next law enforcement responsibilities might include.
Whatever challenges await him, Montgomery said he won't soon forget the past three years.
"There are a lot of good memories. Being around kids, helping them grow is a great feeling," he said. "I will miss it, but I think I can go knowing I did my best."