A young Mike Nicolosi spent more time running from the cops than wanting to be one.
Nicolosi, known to students as Officer Mike, is the Student Resource Officer (SRO) for the Oyster River Cooperative School District. He splits his time between the middle and high schools as a frequent face in the hallways and a resource for students and staff. Personally, I got to know him as the crossing guard who prevents me from getting run over on my walk home from school. Nicolosi always struck me as a calm and kind personality, greeting students in the hallway and having fun with us at school events. When I asked to interview him, I assumed that he had always wanted to be a police officer—the job seemed made for him. I was surprised to discover that this wasn’t always his plan.
A proud native of Haverhill, Massachusetts, Nicolosi grew up with two social worker parents, a younger brother, and the goal of opening his own private therapy practice. He attended Springfield College for a bachelor’s degree in psychology with minors in philosophy and criminal justice. But, Nicolosi clarified, he chose a criminal justice minor because “I really wanted to learn how to protect myself if I had to deal with the cops,” not with the goal of becoming one.
In fact, “I never wanted to be a cop,” Nicolosi said. “If you ask anyone in my previous lives, never, not once have I ever said yeah, I’m actually considering this.”
His stance on this began to change a few years after he graduated from college. Nicolosi’s parents told him that before he went to graduate school, he needed to decide what aspect of psychology he would specialize in. So, he decided to take a summer job while he considered it. He ended up scuba diving for golf balls for about two years and tried out bartending.
During this time, Nicolosi asked a lot of questions of himself about how he envisioned his life. “I didn’t want that typical nine to five job,” he realized. “I wanted something where I could drive a lot. I wanted something where I didn’t have a boss who was always breathing down my neck, where I could have my own power to do what I wanted to do.”
He started considering law enforcement, but the biggest motivator came when his sister-in-law died of a heroin overdose. “When we requested assistance from the police, they stereotyped her and threatened to lock her in jail. Overall, there was a lack of knowledge, resources, and empathy. Their approach could have been different, and maybe there would have been a better outcome. It’s my goal to listen to what people need and understand the reasons behind their actions. We all make mistakes in life, but I feel like it is important to focus on helping others.”
“I wanted to be a cop to help better people and be for the people,” said Nicolosi. He doesn’t want to be “the power hungry [officer] that you’ve seen in TV shows that are like, ‘alright, I’m gonna go catch the bad guy.’ I mean, being a cop, you can go and do that. But what about the effect that you have on people? What do they need? How can I go about helping them in those ways?”
The passion with which Nicolosi spoke about his decision to become a police officer stunned me. It was clear to me that he truly seeks to work with and improve people’s situations, not to blindly punish them. I also appreciated that he can understand first-hand the struggles that many students might go through because between that and his psychology background, he seems extremely well-suited to support students however they need.
Just as Nicolosi didn’t intend to become a police officer, he also didn’t anticipate becoming an SRO. But when the position opened up, nobody at the police department was interested. “I didn’t want you guys to have somebody that was going to be lackluster at their job and not want to be here for you guys,” said Nicolosi. “I wanted you guys to have that opportunity to have someone that was fun,” so Nicolosi volunteered.
This decision did not come without sacrifice. Because an SRO has fewer opportunities for overtime, taking the position came with a significant pay cut. When Nicolosi mentioned this casually in our interview, it wasn’t to brag, and he didn’t seem to view it as particularly notable. I was blown away. This small fact showed me the amount of care and passion Nicolosi has for his job and his students. He’s not in our school for any self-serving interests; he’s truly here to make a difference for the students who need him.
The job of making a difference in students’ lives isn’t easy. In addition to working on patrol outside of school hours, there are many aspects of being an SRO. “My job is like being an informal counselor, a mentor, and a cop all at the same time. Every day is a different day,” Nicolosi explained.
Nicolosi says he uses his psychology background in his job daily, whether he’s dealing with neighbors’ disputes or students’ behavior. “A lot of my job is having the ability to listen actively and know what that person is needing,” he said.
One of Nicolosi’s biggest priorities is making sure students feel safe. This involves leading active shooter trainings for teachers, ensuring all security measures are working smoothly, and strategically addressing any threats to safety that come up. “I’m always trying to find different ways to improve or to make your guys’ life better,” he said.
Another significant part of Nicolosi’s job is, of course, working with students. Because Nicolosi works with both the middle and high school, he is responsible for helping about 1600 kids, whether they need assistance with a speeding ticket, a solution to a difficult home situation, or just a person to talk to.
Building relationships with students is essential to his job, but it can be tricky with that many students. Additionally, with so many stereotypes about police officers, some students have found it difficult to trust him. “When I first took this job, I always asked students why they thought I was here and what being a school resource officer means to them. Everybody kind of thought it was like a fancy hall monitor that would arrest everybody,” Nicolosi said. “It took me a long time to make it clear that that’s not my role.”
At the middle school, he has discovered that the easiest way to make connections with students is “to just hang out with them.” He is a frequent face at ORMS recess, playing games like foursquare with students to make sure they know he’s a safe person to go to.
At the high school, “I fought really hard for relationships,” said Nicolosi. We don’t have recess, so to make those connections, “I really try to insert myself in everything that I can.” He frequents gym classes, Celeste Best’s forensics class, and even athletic games to cheer on Oyster River students.
“I just try to be everywhere that I can and open that invitation to say hi,” Nicolosi said. “I know that I’m wearing this uniform and it stands for everything bad that the media shows, but that’s not my role. My role here is to help you grow as a person. I’ve kind of lived through it and done it all, so if I can do anything to contribute to your life positively, that’s what I’m here for.”
– Zoe Selig