Officer Cheatham says goodbye after 20 years

Herald Photo/Karla Tipton

Officer Ken Cheatham sits with a desk full of goodbye gifts from students at Barberton Elementary West.

Karla Tipton

Herald Staff Writer

On a Friday afternoon in May, children at Barberton Elementary West lined up for a goodbye hug at the office of school resource officer, Ken Cheatham. 

A 28-year veteran of the Barberton police department, Cheatham will be relinquishing his position to a younger officer and returning to a patrol beat for the last year of work before retirement. In reflecting on his departure, he occasionally blinked back tears. “I’m going to miss this.”

Cheatham became an SRO in 1999 at the old Barberton High School, at the behest of the late Michael Kallai, chief of police at the time.

“Chief Kallai said they were starting a new position, and asked me if I wanted to take it,” said Cheatham. “He said, ‘I only ask two things of you: I want you to start the program because we never had it before. And, I want you to make it so they can‘t do without it.’ I had no idea what I was getting into.”

Cheatham spent 17 years as an SRO at the high school, and three at Elementary West. “It’s been a good run,” he said.

In hindsight, he regrets going in without training as an SRO. “Looking back, I wish I hadn’t gone in as a cop. If a kid did something, I arrested them, and it wasn’t needed. So I wasn’t perfect.”

It didn’t take him long to realize there was another way. “I started to take a different approach, and it just opened up doors.”

Being proactive

He listened, educated, counseled. In the areas of crime prevention and safety, he became proactive, instead of reactive.

He explained, “As they came in, just sitting down and finding out why the kids are acting the way they are, most are acting out because they are hurting because they’ve got too much on their plate,” he said.

“I came to the conclusion, ‘Find the hurt, heal the hurt.'”

It’s one of the several slogans Cheatham uses at schools to inspire and educate. Others are, “Hugs, not slugs,” to discourage violence, and “The only thing you should like sugarcoated is your frosty flakes,” to encourage self-honesty.

His most popular saying, however, is directed at young women. “Get your nails done.”

Over his years as an officer, he has seen young women make poor life choices because of low self-esteem and noticed that when they do something for themselves, like doing their nails, it makes them feel better. “I started telling the young ladies at the high school, ‘hey, get your nails done,’ to build self-esteem and it turned out to be a success. Around prom time, they’re all flocking to me to show their nails,” he said with a laugh.

Cheatham and his wife Cynthia have successfully raised daughters Moriah and Alexia, who have gone into law and nursing careers, respectively. “I think I was meant to raise daughters.”

Passing the torch

Although he will miss being an SRO officer, Cheatham said, “It’s time. You know when it’s time. Like I said, it’s time for a young person to get in here and have the success that I have and take it to the next level.”

That person will be Officer Greg Stalder, who once came up to him when he was in middle school, and said, ‘Officer Cheatham, I’m going to be a police officer just like you and one day I’m going to have your job,'” said Cheatham with a chuckle.  “I couldn’t be happier for him.”

Cheatham’s last day as an SRO will be the end of the school year, and he will begin day shift parole duty in June. “I only have a year and a half left before I retire, and this will give me the opportunity to work with the guys that I came in with.”

As for Chief Kallai’s original assignment to initiate the SRO program, Cheatham believes he succeeded. “My job was to come in and make it to where they couldn’t do without it, and now we have an officer in every school.”

12 Comments

  1. littlebrokengirl on June 11, 2019 at 3:54 am

    It’s really sad to see you go, just becaseue of the major impact you have had on many of us! I know i can say this because i am one of them, if it wasnt for you, i would have taking my own life a few times, or i would have ended up in prison. your slogan be proactive not reactive def worked in the case with saving me. You are a true inspiration and my hero and forever i will cherish you an all that you have done. At least you can say upon your retirement, you changed lives and saved lives. and yes go on girl get your nail did def stuck with us girls, and made us feel alot better. One thing about cheatham was that he never judged any of us no matter the evil we could have comitted, he never made us feel guilty or low, he always gave a listening ear but he would though tell us what we did was wrong and why but he would do it in such a way that it would actually stick and we would want to listen, he didn’t scream at us or call us names. Cheatham was not only a barberton officer and our protector at the high school, he was our cousnelor, our mentor, our role model, our hero, our mom and dad at times, and our true friend, he knew how to take on the role of anything or anyone he needed to be to help one of his kids out. he loved all of us very much and made sure we knew it. he appreciated us, he appreciated our lives, and that meant alot to some of us, when you have no one and never had anyone then you get to meet this man, wow your whole world changes and you can fianlly believe and know that someone actaully does love you, and wants you to be alive. Thank you officer Cheatham, one year left then it’s your time to sit back and relax with the Mrs. and let us be your hero’s now. love ya! BNN

  2. Former classmate and friend on June 6, 2019 at 9:48 pm

    So proud of you and the work you have done and continue to do. I am lucky to call you my friend and my kids were lucky to have you as a roll model and person to listen to them and so many others! Congratulations on a job well done!

  3. Ray Todd on June 4, 2019 at 5:00 am

    Stay the course.

  4. Diane on May 31, 2019 at 2:37 pm

    Thanks for your service. God Bless.

  5. Janice Davis on May 31, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    My three grandchildren, respect and love Officer Cheatam. Thank you for being a positive force in their life. God bless.

  6. Anonymous on May 31, 2019 at 7:38 am

    My daughter’s all know officer Cheatham. He has helped them along there way in school. My youngest Hailey will miss him. She goes to B.E.W she came home tell me she had to tell him goodbye. When I asked her why she said he is retiring. She will miss you.

  7. Lisa watts on May 31, 2019 at 1:07 am

    Officer cheatham is the living example of the statement, it takes a village to raise a child. Thank you for your help with raising my 3 boys. Without you 2 of my boys and myself wouldn’t have made ot through their teen years. From my family to yours Thank you for sharing this wonderful man with our children and community.

  8. Sarah Dodd on May 30, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    I’m sad to hear this! Officer cheatham made a huge impact on a lot of lives. He was the only one that you could go to and be completely open and honest about everything without getting in trouble or judged. Thank you for being there for me and all the other students whose lives you touched. ❤

  9. Camille Cheatham-Hooks on May 30, 2019 at 7:57 pm

    I can truly say without doubt; I know that Uncle Marvin would be bursting with pride seeing all that you have accomplished with such love and great respect from your family, coworkers, your community and most of all the children. You have touched many lives and that’s what great legacies are made of; “Hey do remember Officer Cheatham? Yes He was the best I can remember when I was going through a very bad time and he was right there to help me get through it, and yes I got my nails done 💅🏾 “. The halls won’t be the same without you but what you have left behind will never be forgotten. Much Love ❤️ and Respect

  10. Anonymous on May 30, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    You got it all right, when you listened to the students hurting, broken, needing direction, focus, someone who cares. A resource Officer needs to detect and focus not only on the problem but the cause of it. Be humble take the time to recognize everyone with a hello how are you approach. No one will replace you unless they learn by your example Dear friend, Officer, Listener, Counselor, the one and only with integrity, Kenny Cheatam best of Luck you will be missed.

  11. Mom of 4 💜🤗💜 on May 30, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    Officer Cheatham will be missed. He has touched so many children’s lives, including all 4 of mine. Thank you for your service! Be safe out there

  12. Anonymous on May 30, 2019 at 4:26 pm

    Thank you for your service! You sir are a gentleman and scholar.

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