Award-Winning Officer Values Prevention, Empathy

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Steve Montgomery never hesitated to put warning notes on the cars of students he suspected of speeding.

On one, he wrote "Slow down. I'll be watching you."

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Payson Police officer Steve Montgomery and his wife, Patti, celebrate the announcement of his selection as Arizona School Resource Officer of the Year.

He was known to go out of his way to steer students away from breaking the law, especially when traffic offenses were involved.

"I try to stop them from getting tickets," said Montgomery. "I know their parents are probably paying for their insurance and (receiving) tickets makes it even tougher financially (on the parents)."

Montgomery, a law enforcement officer who relied on prevention as much as enforcement, has been named the Arizona State School Resource Officer of the Year for his work with Payson's education community.

Montgomery received the honor June 22 at a joint Arizona School Resource Officer (SRO) Association and DARE convention held in Prescott.

"I was very surprised. I knew I had been nominated, but had no idea I'd won," Montgomery said. "It is a great honor and really special."

Montgomery served as SRO at Payson High School, Rim Country Middle School and the Payson Center for Success for three years before being rotated to a patrol officer at the end of the school year.

Brad Meyocks, a Payson High School student, said he appreciated Montgomery's special traits.

"It's not like he's all the time out to bust you; waiting for you to make a mistake," he said. "When he sees us, he waves or he'll stop and talk."

As an SRO, Montgomery's touch was firm, but with genuine concern for the welfare of the students.

"He understands and he listens to you," PHS student Ashley Smith said.

Fellow student Hilary Armenta agreed: "More cops should be like him."

Former Payson High School principal Sue Myers said students respected Montgomery.

"He could be trusted to enforce the laws and treat everyone fairly," she said. "And that's a very important lesson for young students."

Rim Country Middle School assistant principal Yvette Harpe praised Montgomery's strength and quiet, unassuming presence.

"He doesn't try to scare (the students)," said Harpe. "They respect his honesty and the way he talks to them."

In nominating Montgomery for the award, Payson Unified School District administrators submitted several glowing recommendations.

Former superintendent Herb Weissenfels wrote about Montgomery: "(He) took on the job with enthusiasm, professionalism and an intuitive sense of young people. He has truly raised the bar for what an SRO can accomplish."

Former Payson Center for Success principal Monica Nitzsche said, "Officer Montgomery is by far the most outstanding SRO officer I have known... it has been my honor to have worked with him."

While an SRO, Montgomery was involved in several school programs including Character Counts, School Safety Program, Law Related Education, PCS Portfolio Evaluations and as a classroom teacher.

Harpe valued Montgomery's teaching as a school and district asset.

"Our staff loves to have him teach LRE classes," she said. "He works with our emotionally special education students as well as the regular classes."

Following a lesson on police and probation careers to a PHS Consumer Science class, teacher Devon Wells said to Montgomery, "your speech really hits home to many of our students ... your expertise is so valuable."

Weissenfels praised his work in the classroom saying, "he incorporates technology into his presentations in creative and logical ways."

Montgomery also taught the hazards of drinking and driving to PHS teacher Bob Hoyt's social studies classes and a unit on prejudice and respect for difference in others to Ted Tatum's RCMS classes.

"All of those (subjects) are a challenge to teach successfully," Montgomery said.

Now that his tenure as an SRO is at an end, Montgomery considers the three years well spent.

"There are a lot of good memories," he said. "Being around kids, watching and helping them grow up is a great feeling...a sense of accomplishment."

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