Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner has come up with a practical solution to the prohibitive cost of staffing officers at 16 elementary schools countywide.
He has assigned officers to drop by the schools while on patrol.
The program will start when students return to school in January.
This came up prior to the massacre earlier this month in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 young students were killed. A common response to the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School has been that armed police or volunteers should guard every school.
Tanner first suggested a program to put officers in elementary schools in 2009. He tried unsuccessfully to get a federal grant to assign a full-time officer to eight elementary schools. These "school resource officers" have been a fixture at county middle schools and high schools since 1995, with Beaufort County leading the state in this regard. The school district pays 75 percent of the cost, which in the 2009 grant request was set at $100,000 per officer.
The goal was not then, and not now, to keep heavily armed maniacs out of elementary schools. The goal is to foster a trusting relationship between the public and law enforcement, beginning at a young age.
Too often, young children's exposure to officers is negative, Tanner said.
"They are seeing law enforcement officers arrest a parent, sibling, an aunt or uncle or friend," Tanner said in 2009. "They see that because we answer domestic violence calls, or make drug arrests ... and other issues that leave the impression on a child's mind at an early age that law enforcement is the bad guy."
Interacting with students daily at school could change those impressions, Tanner said. At the elementary level, resource officers could help with character and behavior education, he said.
Those are goals that today's principals see as important.
Give Tanner credit for finding a different way to at least take a stab at this objective. Patrol officers assigned to a school will undergo a day of training, and it is expected they will be on campus for about an hour in each 12-hour shift.
Police chiefs have cooperated, enabling deputies to go to schools within municipalities that are not normally under Sheriff's Office jurisdiction.
This is a practical step toward a worthwhile goal.