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Respected school resource officer leaving Gibbs after 25 years

Part mentor and part rules enforcer, Gibbs High School resource officer Michael Hawkins receives a hug from faculty member Cheryl Hanneman on Monday.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Part mentor and part rules enforcer, Gibbs High School resource officer Michael Hawkins receives a hug from faculty member Cheryl Hanneman on Monday.

ST. PETERSBURG

He's a pastor and a police officer, but Michael Hawkins, the school resource officer at Gibbs High School, likes to think of himself as a monkey wrench.

Bible in his heart and gun on his holster, sometimes he's loose and sometimes he's tight. But he's always open to adjustments.

In June, after 25 years of being the top cop and mentor to a generation of students at Gibbs, Hawkins is retiring.

In doing so, Hawkins, who started his career with the St. Petersburg Police Department in 1981 and was assigned to Gibbs three years later, retires as the longest serving school resource officer in Florida.

"It's just been a pleasure and an honor to serve the students of St. Petersburg as long as I did," said Hawkins, 49, who plans to remain in the department. "I think I had so many memories of wonderful times that would overshadow anything that may have been bad."

Oh, there were bad times. Fights that sent students to the hospital. Weapons confiscated, contraband seized. Rides to the police station and the child abuse cases that still haunt him.

In 25 years at the school, Hawkins has not pulled his service revolver from its holster. He didn't need to. They say he knew how to get their attention.

"He knows the kids, he knows their parents and their grandparents. Just having that knowledge base with people in the community makes your job a lot easier," said principal Antelia Campbell, who has been at Gibbs for three years.

He knew principals, too. Five of them, starting with Marilyn Heminger in 1984. Fresh out of the academy, Hawkins started walking the halls.

He attended St. Petersburg High, but in time, his own children also passed through the Gibbs halls. His oldest, Talesia Miller, now 28, graduated from Gibbs in 2000, and Mi'Kal Hawkins, 17, is a senior. His wife of 19 years, Sandra, worked there as an educator for about a decade.

Students took to calling him "Daddy Hawkins" or "Pops." He was a father figure to others, too.

"If I did have any inclination to give up, he was able to support me and reassure me that things would be okay," said Lonnette Stephens, 35, who graduated from Gibbs in 1991 and is a math teacher there.

He became an ordained pastor in 1991 and today leads a small nondenominational congregation at Antioch Church in St. Petersburg. At school, he wears the white and green police officer's uniform and keeps a Bible in his office. But his role as spiritual adviser is always beneath the surface.

He has been called upon to give words of remembrance at a memorial service for a deceased staffer, or a moonlight vigil for the family of a fallen student.

Many students have used his office in the school as a confessional. They find their way there with questions about what is right and what is wrong.

"It's ironic that even with some of the bad, if you treat people fair, most of them will come back and talk to you," Hawkins said. "I had some of them come back and tell me, 'I'm sorry I disappointed you.' "

Through the years, his special touch has not gone unnoticed. He was named Florida School Resource Officer of the Year in 1998, and Officer of the Year by the city of St. Petersburg in 1997.

Now his name graces two signs outside the school, where students and staff have adopted a milelong stretch of U.S. 19 in his honor.

Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or lperez@sptimes.com.

Respected school resource officer leaving Gibbs after 25 years 02/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 28, 2009 3:30am]
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