Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner doesn't want children to think someone is in trouble when a deputy shows up at school.
"It's a red flag to me when children think just because a deputy is in school that ... he's taking someone with him when he leaves," Tanner said. "It makes us look like the bad guy."
Tanner hopes that making deputies a more common sight in schools will help change that perception. A plan that launches when classes resume in January will give 16 deputies new responsibilities as school resource officers in Beaufort County School District elementary schools.
School resource officers have been a fixture at area middle and high schools since 1995, according to the Sheriff's Office. But because there aren't the same conflicts among younger students as with adolescents and teens, the officers haven't usually been deemed necessary or affordable for elementary schools, Tanner said.
However, the Sheriff's Office has figured out a way to have a uniformed presence at elementary schools without extra expense. The 16 deputies will check in on schools during their routine patrols, and they will be trained in-house.
Tanner also is pushing for Beaufort County Council to reassign six Beaufort County Animal Shelter & Control officers from the county animal shelter to elementary schools.
Deputy county administrator Bryan Hill said in an email that a proposal to shift control of the county shelter to civilians could come up for a vote by the end of January; that could make reassignment of officers there possible by February.
Col. David Brown, who founded the Sheriff's Office school resource program, helped craft the one-day training session for deputies, which he hopes will impart a "softer and gentler" approach when working with young people. They'll need it in their new roles as counselors and teachers, he said.
"If you can get them young, you can show them that you're their friend," Brown said.
Area police chiefs have signed on to the program so deputies can visit schools within towns and cities outside of the Sheriff's Office jurisdiction, Tanner said. Tanner anticipates that during a typical 12-hour shift, deputies will have about an hour to drop in at schools.
Coosa Elementary School principal Carmen Dillard welcomes the deputies.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for the kids to see those people in public safety and to see the services they provide," Dillard said.
Red Cedar Elementary School principal Kathleen Corley agreed.
"We typically only have them around when it's some sort of emergency," Corley said. "Some students even at very young ages do not have a positive view of law enforcement, so it would be great for them to have a positive experience."
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/IPBG_Allison.