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Students enjoy sheriff department's safety program

Tuesday wasn't your typical day for Kanawha County Sheriff's Deputy H. Shipman.

Shipman typically finds herself chasing bad guys.

But on Tuesday, she read to youngsters at Ruthlawn Elementary School as part of the sheriff's department's new program to send officers to county schools to discuss safety and build rapport with students.

"It was a really good visit," Shipman said.

She said she was well received by both children and adults at the school. In fact, she wasn't sure who had a better time - she or the students. 

"They (children) asked me a lot of questions, and I liked answering them," the deputy said.

Many of the students asked her if she would be returning to their classes every day.

"That was really heartwarming," she said.

Students also asked her why lockdowns were initiated at the school. She answered that it was a precaution to keep them safe.

"They asked a lot of good questions," she said.

She is among several deputies who will be sent to schools that do not have a prevention resource officer assigned to them, Sheriff Johnny Rutherford said.

Three deputies will visit two schools a day on a random schedule for the remainder of the school year as long as the manpower is available, he said.

The deputies will be picked on a rotating basis, Rutherford said.

The program is being funded by a $30,000 allocation provided by the Kanawha County Commission.

The officers will keep an eye out for suspicious behavior near the schools and discuss safety issues with teachers and administrators, said Cpl. Brian Humphreys, head of special operations.

Developing relationships with children and showing them that officers are there to help is one of the main focuses.

"We want the children to be comfortable around us," Humphreys said.

Ruthlawn Principal Natalie Laliberty was very pleased to have Shipman visit her school Tuesday. She said students felt the same way.

Shipman read to the students and answered their questions about what an officer does, Laliberty said.

"Her visit made the kids feel at ease with an officer," she said.

Shipman greeted the children as they exited the bus Tuesday morning.

She also read "A Day in the Life of a Police Officer" to the classes and helped paint a Mardi Gras mask. Unfortunately, she didn't have the time to finish it. 

"The kids will finish it for me," the deputy said with a laugh. "They're wanting me to come back and pick it up."

School safety has come to the forefront after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Regular visits from officers will help students feel more comfortable, Laliberty said.

School safety precautions have changed dramatically in Laliberty's 17 years as an educator, she said. Mass shootings in schools have prompted officials to focus on keeping doors locked.

Visitors at Ruthlawn must buzz in at the front door before they can be admitted to the building. The school has a device at the door that can scan a driver's license.

The license is checked against a database, which can notify school administrators if the person trying to gain access to the building is wanted by law enforcement.

Although officer visits can help make the children feel more secure, Laliberty said she isn't looking for a door guard.

"I want the officer to read to the kids, do flash cards and be a part of the staff," she said.

Contact writer Paul Fallon at paul.fallon@dailymail.com or 304-348-4817. Follow him at www.twitter.com/PaulBFallon.


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