CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For the past several years, resource prevention officers affiliated with the Charleston Police Department have been stationed at Capital and George Washington high schools, boosting security at those schools, not unlike an officer patrolling city streets.
But resource prevention officers have another role as well — that of a guardian for students and someone for whom those teenagers can find as a support.
This school year, students at Capital and George Washington high schools each have new prevention resource officers, both of whom have been longtime members of the Charleston police force.
Charleston Police Sgt. George Henderson, who oversees the officers in schools, said officers are selected as candidates for the program based on how well the department thinks the officer will fit in a school setting.
"You've got to hand-pick the officers you put in the school," he said.
Henderson himself was the officer at George Washington High School until this year. He is now in charge of the department's public services unit.
Officers assigned to schools must go through special training over the summer through the West Virginia Division of Justice and Community Service, Henderson said. They also have to complete a one-week course about how to deal with children and be certified in conflict resolution.
Once on the job, officers are present at the school every day, and they also attend many after-school functions, from concerts to sports activities.
The officers are also responsible for teaching one elective class per week, usually in something related to law enforcement. Henderson taught forensics when he was assigned to George Washington.
But there's a mentor factor too, Henderson said, and that was something he experienced while working at George Washington. In a way, he said, students cease viewing the resource prevention officer as an everyday police officer.
"You become like 'their' officer," he said. "They forget you're a police officer. It's unreal."
At George Washington, Cpl. Gary Daniels will replace Henderson as the school officer.
Daniels, 40, is a 17-year veteran of the Charleston Police Department, with a background in the patrol and criminal investigation units. He said being assigned to a school never crossed his mind, but he was excited about the idea after it was proposed.
"To be honest, I'd never really thought about it," he said in an interview before the start of the school year.
But Daniels, who has worked with children throughout his law enforcement career and has a 17-year-old daughter of his own, quickly warmed up to the idea.
"I've always liked kids and I've worked with them very well," he said.