Elementary schools taking to school resource officers

rlurye@islandpacket.comNovember 24, 2013 

BCSO.NET

Soon after Cpl. Danielle Shea began walking the halls at Broad River Elementary School's in September, she knew most of the troublemakers by name.

Three months later, those same Burton students are showing respect to teachers and occasionally offering the Beaufort County sheriff's deputy a high-five. To Shea, who makes weekly trips to the county's elementary schools, that's a sign the expanded community resource officer program is working.

"Some (students) wouldn't talk to us at first. Now they're all about it," Shea said. "And if one of them decides he or she is going to act out, they look at me and know they're going to go out in the hall and get some words of wisdom."

While the Sheriff's Office has been sending deputies to the county's public and private elementary schools since January, the sporatic visits didn't allow officers to leave lasting impressions. In September, four deputies began making the rounds once or twice a week to more than 30 elementary schools, Lt. Alfredo Givens said. Two other deputies devote their time to running the program.

Deputies walk the halls, visit classrooms, build off the schools' public-safety curriculum and mentor students individually.

"When you look at the happy faces and smiling faces, and get compliments from the principals and family who are appreciative of what we do, that's the measuring stick," Givens said. "It's making a difference in these children's lives."

The Sheriff's Office provides the service free of charge to the Beaufort County School District using money after the positions of six animal control officers were transferred from the Sheriff's Office to animal shelters and code enforcement, Sheriff P.J. Tanner said.

While principals and teachers have responded well to the deputies' efforts, the Sheriff's Office is still developing ways to measure the program's success. One may be tracking crime and disorder in middle and high schools, which has been on the rise, Tanner said.

"It may take us some years to really figure out how good this program is," Tanner said. "Unfortunately, that's the million dollar question and I don't have a million dollar answer right now."

Gregory McCord, chief student services officer, said he also expects to see deputies show greater empathy for students and a greater sense of urgency when trouble erupts, whether their problems unfold in or out of school. Only time will tell how it effects students' behavior, he said.

"You don't measure this day to day," he added. "I would think you measure this through a lifetime."

In the next few months, deputies will have another tool to help win over reluctant students when they begin incorporating the Sheriff's Office's K-9 team in their visits, Tanner said. The community resource officers are also developing a set of classes called Consequences, which will educate students about the experiences of young offenders. The school district could adopt the courses as early as next year, McCord said.

As a whole, the program should help foster a positive image of law enforcement when, too often, children only see officers when "they're here to get someone," said Broad River Elementary School Principal Constance Goodwine-Lewis. At her school, students not only see Shea but have question boxes in each classroom where they can ask her things like whether she has a "police dog" or taser, or why she become an officer.

While Goodwine-Lewis said she had no expectations for the program when it launched, she appreciates the results.

"The importance of her being here just as a helper and a community helper and not because she's looking for someone, it's nice for our children to be exposed to that," she said.

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.

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