Topeka Public Schools police officer receives Distinguished Staff Award
When he retired in December 2014 from the Topeka Police Department after 30 years of service with the agency, Kelly Roberts said he thought his law enforcement career had come to an end.
"I thought I was done with law enforcement," Roberts said.
Then came a call from the Topeka Public Schools Police Department.
On the other end of the line were Chief Ron Brown and Capt. Charlie McCray, who formerly served with Roberts at the Topeka Police Department.
They told Roberts he might enjoy working with them on the Topeka Public Schools Police Department.
Before he knew it, Roberts was back in uniform again. His retirement from law enforcement, he says with a laugh, lasted all of seven months and one day.
Roberts is proving to be a valuable addition to the Topeka Public Schools Police Department, putting more than three-decades of law enforcement experience to use.
He recently received a Distinguished Staff Award from Topeka Unified School District 501. It is the highest award the district bestows on a staff member.
Roberts focuses primarily on truancy issues, working both with students and their parents, along with teachers, principals and counselors.
The goal, he says, is to keep students in school so they can get their high school diploma, which he says is invaluable in helping individuals find jobs.
"A high school diploma means so much more than people realize," Roberts said. "A lot of places, you can't work there unless you have a high school diploma.
"They prefer a high school diploma over a GED, because a high school diploma shows that you have the dedication to go every day and get the work done."
Roberts, himself a graduate of Topeka West High School, also informs students and parents of legal issues revolving around truancy, and works with Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay's office.
But more than anything, Roberts tries to keep the lines of communication open with students and parents, putting his people skills to work.
Unlike many other officers in the Topeka Public Schools, Roberts isn't assigned to one particular building and can move from school to school, as needed.
Additionally, Roberts has helped improve technology for the Topeka Public Schools Police Department.
"I think I've done good work for the district," Roberts says. "I was awarded the Distinguished Staff Award this year, which is pretty much the highest award the district can give to somebody."
Once nearly retired, Roberts says he remains committed to serving others through law enforcement.
"There's always more you want to do," he says. "Always. I mean, that's why I'm still here after 36 years of law enforcement. There's always more you want to give."
Brown, the chief of USD 501's police department, says Roberts has been a key addition to the department.
"He does hundreds of home visits, where he goes to the home with the intent to try and encourage the family to get the child back into school," says Brown, who is planning to retire at the end of July from his post as chief of the Topeka Public Schools Police Department. "He does a really good job of simply talking with the families, explaining the importance of school.
"But the key there is encouragement, and not that heavy-handed approach. And so he does that very well. He interacts with young people extremely well. We're just so proud of him."