When Michelle Archer joined the Matthews Police Department 21 years ago, she entered the force as the first African-American woman hired as a sworn police officer for the town.
Her entrance, at age 31, was a long time coming, having dreamed of this pursuit as a teenager. “When I first decided to be a police officer, it was at the age of 16,” said Archer, 53. “[That’s] when a police officer came into school, and I saw how kids responded to that officer,” she said.
One of three children, born in San Diego, Archer did not go to college. “College was not something which was encouraged…it wasn’t something I knew much about,” she said. So, without further educational guidance, she went into the military, joining the United States Army where she served eight years as a telecommunication center specialist.
Upon military discharge, she began working for the Mecklenburg County Security Police Department. A sergeant took her under his wing and helped guide her into the realm of police work. In 1998, the Matthews Police Department came calling. And the rest, as they might say, is history.
New to the force and patient to pay her dues, she soon had her sights on a School Resource Officer (SRO) position. “I like people. I’m a nurturer. I like helping people,” she said. “When a person has a problem, I listen and I automatically jump into solution mode. Law enforcement is the best way to do that, and for me, it was the easiest way to do that. I also wanted to work with kids.”
SRO work would give her both the “kids” and law enforcement pieces. It was God and her heart which were guiding her. “I follow my heart,” she said. “I try to do what’s right and I put all my faith and all my trust in him.”
“As an SRO, you are the single officer in the school,” Archer said. “I always liken it to ‘Marshall Dillon’ – you are the only police officer, the only person in the town in charge of enforcing the law. There is no backup, no sheriffs or deputies….you are it. Every investigation, every call-to-service that’s given out in your community, you are responsible for [it]. “
By year four, she had secured her dream job as the only Elementary School Resource Officer in the CMS school system. Four years later, the department promoted Archer to Butler High School, where she proudly stayed for 12 years - serving as “Mom.”
“I am a law enforcement officer. I am a parent to two of my own, but also of 2100 kids at Butler School,” she said proudly. “I am a mentor, counselor; I’m a teacher…there’s a lot. For years, the kids haven’t referred to me as Officer Archer - they refer to me as Mom. To this very day, I have kids who have graduated say ‘Mom!’ or ‘this is my Mom!’ I am to the kids and the school what their parents are at home.”
Coming to work every single day, Archer explained further, was just like coming home. “These are my kids; I love these kids. I feel like these are my kids that I am raising,” she said. “I may not have given birth to every single one of them, but I am nurturing them and raising every single one of them that walks through that door. And, I’ll do everything to protect and keep them safe…and everything I can to make sure they are successful in life – that’s what a parent does.”
In her work, Archer handled everything but a death investigation. “Everything that’s investigated out in the road, I have investigated in the schools,” said Archer. “What I’m doing in the schools is the same thing that the patrol officers are doing on the road. It’s just that I’m doing it in the schools and I’m the only one able to do it.”
While her time at school was both joyous and fulfilling, she has also experienced personal pain. “Our hearts get broken all the time,” said Archer. “I have cried when I’ve been arresting kids because you aren’t mad at them, you are disappointed – like a parent, and it breaks your heart. I tell them all the time that ‘you know I’m disappointed in you,’ as I’m arresting them. Or, I’m crying when I’m sitting with them waiting for the parents to come because I know that they are going to have big hoops to get through this…..bottom line is that I have a job to do, but I still love my kids.”
To add to her role, she has also attended many after-school and weekend sporting events both in and out of uniform. She has helped pay for food for the athletes; brought snacks for the team; accompanied them on away games. But, she clearly draws the line on a personal level. “No, I don’t hang out with them,” she said, stating that her relationships are like a parent to a child. However, she has become friends with some of the children’s parents.
Last year, the department promoted Archer to the rank of Sergeant. She now oversees four SROs and one DARE officer. Although the promotion left her full of gratitude and gratefulness, she quickly learned this position would directly remove her from the work and children she clearly loves.
“An SRO who has been in that school has been a fixture in that school,” she said. “Everyone knows them. You become that school – that staff, those parents’ personal police officer; the person who is going to keep them safe, the person who is going to protect them; and [in that environment] no other police officer exists. You become familiar, and those relationships are developed, and that rapport is developed, and you are ‘it.’"
“You are the only cop they know, even though you are not the only cop in town,” Archer said. “So when I go to [Butler High], I’m now not going to be that familiar face. That’s going to be hard. It’s already become hard. They no longer see Mom. That was really hard. That was really, really hard to get used to.”
After nearly two years in this new position, her return to Butler High is very bittersweet. “I still go to their graduations…I’m there to see them through….as they walk across that stage, I’m there at the bottom of that stage.” But, now, a new officer is taking her place. After this year, the remaining kids who knew her will have graduated and moved on. “I will accept my role as a supervisor and get to know them. But, I will not have the same role or respect from the kids that [the new officer] will have.”
Among the many other accomplishments in Archer’s life include eight years of serving in the North Carolina Association of School Resource Officers where she began as Regional Representative and rose through the ranks to President; she is now Immediate Past President. She is responsible for the creation of a comprehensive statewide network database of assigned NC School Resource Officers. As a direct result, there is now an SRO email contact database used by the officers, the Association, and the Department of Education.
Since she will retire in less than two years, she sees her future as bright and knows there’s always more police work to do. “I want to keep working with kids, I want to keep working with schools!” said Archer. “I’m a strong believer in God and this was God’s will, this was his plan - his way of saying, ‘this is where I need you right now.’ He opened the door; he paved the way, and I found success as a result of it. It has everything to do with my passion, my heart, and my strong will to make a difference.”
The only caveat? If her daughters have kids. In that case, “I will become a full-time nanny to my grandkids!” she says with a laugh.