Morris’ Justin Martin enjoys his role as school resource officer

Morris Police Officer Justin Martin poses for a photo outside the Morris Police Department on Tuesday, April 16, 2024.

MORRIS – Justin Martin started his career in the Morris Police Department in 2017 as a patrolman. He didn’t think that, just a few years later, he would serve the force and the community in a different capacity.

Martin currently is the school resource officer at Morris Grade School, where he spends the day making sure the school and the people inside it are safe. He also coaches junior high baseball in the fall and is the sophomore boys basketball coach at Morris Community High School in the winter. He has served as the District 54 SRO the last two years.

“Officer Martin is a great member of our community here at the school,” District 54 Superintendent Shannon Dudek said. “He is continuously working to build relationships with the students and staff here. He really helps the kids understand that law enforcement officers are there to help them.”

It is the relating to the students that Martin enjoys the most.

“I love this job,” Martin said. “I have had kids come up to me and hug me in school, when last year they didn’t even want to talk to me. Having that kind of relationship with the kids makes the job easier. And I hope it makes the job of any police officer easier down the line, since these kids will have a better understanding of what law enforcement officers do when they become adults.

“We are there to protect and serve. We’ll help you if you lock your keys in your car, if your car breaks down or if someone is hurting or threatening to hurt you. We want the public to look to us as people who are there to help.”

Martin’s ability to connect with kids has been his calling card, both as an SRO and as a coach.

“Being able to connect with the kids helps both me and the teachers,” Martin said. “I see the kids in the hallways, at recess, during PE. They all know if they are having a problem they can come talk to me, and I’ll see what I can do to help them out. Sometimes that involves talking to the teachers, who may not have known that the child was having a problem.

“In the summer, I go back to being in the street as a patrolman, and kids will come up to me and say hello. Sometimes, their parents will ask why, and they tell them it’s because they know me from school. When parents see their kids reacting to a police officer that way, it might change the parents’ attitudes about police, as well.”

Not only do the students he protects enjoy his company, but so do the adults who work with him.

“His smile, man. He just lights up a room,” Morris head varsity basketball coach Joe Blumberg said. “He has so much positive energy, and he’s given our basketball program a boost.

“He’s passionate about winning games, but he’s even more interested in connecting with young people and steering them in the right direction. He will discipline guys, but he will also make sure they know he loves them. I know my two daughters are going to have a positive one-on-one interaction every day at school with officer Martin. And I know 15 sophomores will have the same after school during the winter with Coach Martin.

“I am honored to have him in our program and blessed to call him a friend.”

Martin came to the high school as a coach after a conversation with the high school’s SRO, Scott Evans. Evans helps coach wrestling at the school and is involved with coaching travel softball.

“I asked Scott if there were any coaching jobs open at the high school, and he told me there was an assistant freshman coaching job open, so I applied and got it. Then [head freshman coach] Mike Muntz stepped down because he was also the head golf coach and an assistant baseball coach, so I moved up to head freshman coach. Then [sophomore coach] Ray Burgess stepped down, and I moved up to the sophomores the next year and got to coach the same group of kids again.

“I have to thank Scott Evans a lot for that. He also spends a lot of time with girls when he is coaching softball, so he can help me with things from the female side if I have a problem. We work together and want to do the best for the students that we can.”

Martin graduated from Ottawa High School in 2012, then went to Illinois Valley Community College for two years before receiving his bachelor’s in driminal justice from Illinois State University in May 2017 after serving an internship with the Ottawa Police Department from January to April 2017. He submitted applications to the police departments in Ottawa, Morris, Plano and Wood Dale before being hired by Morris Police Department in September 2017.

“I really lucked out,” Martin said. “I applied to four police departments, and Morris was the first one that called. I am very happy that I came to Morris. I have made a lot of great friendships. The people in the department are like a second family to me.

“So many people have the impression that cops are out to get them. I want to help people. I am not going into the school thinking about how I can ruin a kid’s day. I want them to know that if they are having a bad day, they can come to me, and I will do what I can to help them with it.”

Rob Oesterle

Rob Oesterle

Rob has been a sports writer for the Morris Herald-News and Joliet Herald-News for more than 20 years.