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Gwinnett School Resource Officer Nicolette McLeod-Pinnock received the Peace Officers Association of Georgia’s Officer of the Year Award for Valor for her role in de-escalating a stabbing incident at Trickum Middle School last year.

In late October last year, a Trickum Middle School student stabbed his eighth-grade teacher with an eight-inch butcher knife.

The first person to respond to the scene was Trickum Middle School Resource Officer Nicolette McLeod-Pinnock. When she intervened, the stabber grabbed another student. McLeod-Pinnock was able to diffuse the situation and disarm the student without escalating the already violent scene.

On Tuesday, Gwinnett County Public Schools announced McLeod-Pinnock was recognized for her quick response with the Peace Officers Association of Georgia Officer of the Year Award for Valor. She was presented with a medal and trophy at the organization’s annual awards ceremony in Savannah.

McLead-Pinnock was notified about one month ago that the POAG was looking for her. She received the Medal of Valor from the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce in March, but she realized she was nominated for the state-level recognition when she was invited to the banquet.

“It was a humbling experience,” she said. “It’s one of those things that makes you go, ‘Wow, we’re stepping out of Gwinnett now.’”

McLeod-Pinnock was in her third month of her new job as an SRO when the attack occurred. A walkie-talkie call for an administrator in the eighth-grade hallway of Trickum Middle turned into a frantic call for an officer. She first thought she was called in to break up a fight, but realized the situation was more serious when she arrived.

McLeod-Pinncok said she had to tap into her crisis intervention training upon entering the classroom. The armed student was holding the knife to a classmate and students in the room were visibly traumatized by the situation. Her training dictates her priority is to diffuse the situation without using force, if possible.

“I’m taking into consideration the totality of the circumstances,” she said. “You have children in there that are going through a traumatic experience. Then you have a child that didn’t ask to be put into this position and dealing with all of that. It’s one of those things you have a split decision to make.”

McLeod-Pinnock said she mentally prepared herself for different scenarios and eventually forced the student to release the hostage.

McLeod-Pinnock is the first Gwinnett County Public Schools SRO to win the award. Before becoming an SRO, she worked for the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office for 12 years. She turned to working as an SRO to join her passion for working with children and community service.

She also gets to spend more time with her family and feels reassured her children are safe in school. Two of her five kids are enrolled in Gwinnett County Public Schools, three are graduates of the school system.

She’s still an SRO at Trickum Middle.

“I am so proud of Officer McLeod-Pinnock and appreciate the fact that others recognize her courage and service to Gwinnett’s students and teachers,” Gwinnett County Public Schools Police Chief Wayne Rikard said. “Our officers are some of the best trained out there and she is a great representative and certainly deserving. She handled the situation at Trickum in a very professional manner and it should be comforting to parents and all of us in the Gwinnett community that we have officers like her working in our schools.”

McLeod-Pinnock said the presence of SROs is crucial to school safety. She believes the classwork that SROs provide let students know, particularly at a young age, that officers’ first role is as a trusted resource, not a bearer of punishment.

“I understand it costs to have an officer in a school but it costs more not to have an officer in a school,” McLeod-Pinnock said. “The relationships that we’re building are priceless. The growth that’s there is priceless.”

Taylor Denman is a reporter born and raised in Gwinnett County. He came back home to seize the rare opportunity of telling stories about the county in which he grew up.