More officers to be stationed at Kanawha schools
Kanawha County's schoolchildren will see more law enforcement officers in their classrooms and hallways this year.
The idea, though, is more to show students friendly faces than to intimidate them with a beefed-up police presence.
That's just one part of the county's school safety program, a multi-faceted approach to school safety across the school system. But its most notable feature may also be the newest.
Beginning last year, in the wake of the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., and with a $30,000 gift from the Kanawha County Commission, the Kanawha County Sheriff's Office began sending officers to the county's schools for regular visits.
The officers spend about three hours in the school, getting to know the building and letting the students get to know them - the goal is to be reassuring, not threatening, while quietly preparing for a worst-case scenario.
"If there's an incident in that school, I don't want that call to be the first time I'm in that school," said Cpl. Brian Humphreys, with the sheriff's department.
Last year, the sheriff's department did about 300 school visits. This year, they hope to have officers doing school visits every day of the year. They'll continue to be funded in this work by the county commission.
In essence, this approach is still a compromise: ideally, officials would place an officer in every school full-time - but that's a cost prohibitive option. Still, Humphreys says just having a rotating cast of law enforcement officials in a school can change the tone in the building.
"With deputies at the school and the school zones and walking the halls, we hope they become a little more normal and that they become a little more approachable for students," he said.
The county does have three full-time school resource officers - another part of the county's school safety plan - but those officers concentrate on the county's middle and high schools, where there's more risk for fights among students, and where intervention with troubled teens is a focus.
In elementary schools, the goal is different. Karen Messinger, a second grade teacher at Pinch Elementary, said that most of her students are still afraid of police officers.
"They see police officers as those people who deal with bad guys," she said. "This is building rapport with kids and it's a positive relationship so they know they can go to them for help."
The other facets of the county's school safety plan will also be in full force as the school year gets started today: among other things, the sheriff's office and Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority will station emergency vehicles outside schools to remind drivers to drive slowly and carefully through school zones.
"We're going to have trucks and ambulances out there that are a little more subtle," said Mike Jarrett, public information officer with the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority. "We don't want to startle our children, but we want to be present."
Contact writer Shay Maunz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4886.