The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office continues to refine its approach to connecting deputies with the county's elementary schoolchildren, and it continues to be a fairly practical approach.
The new plan, which began with the school year in August, aims to increase deputies' presence in the Beaufort County School District's nearly two dozen elementary schools by assigning one officer to each of the district's five clusters, which are organized around its high schools.
The "community resource officers" will rotate among the different elementary schools in their zone every day with a two-fold purpose: to increase security and to help students become more comfortable with law enforcement officers.
An officer in each elementary school all day, every day, isn't necessary for safety. But assigning one deputy to each cluster should help the deputies connect better with students and have more familiarity with the schools, their staffs and their day-to-day operations. If an emergency should occur, that familiarity will be critical.
Under the previous program, which started in January of the past school year, 16 different deputies visited the schools as part of their regular patrol duties.
The Sheriff's Office will provide the service at no cost to the school district. The district pays about 75 percent of the cost for full-time school resource officers in its middle and high schools. The rest of the cost is borne by the Sheriff's Office and city police departments, depending on where the schools are.
Assigning a deputy to each of the clusters makes sense organizationally although it does present some logistical issues. The Bluffton cluster, for example, has five elementary schools and two early childhood centers, spread out from Okatie to Pritchardville to Bluffton, while the Hilton Head Island cluster has two elementary schools and an early childhood center near each other.
A similar situation can be found in northern Beaufort County. The Beaufort cluster has six elementary schools, while the Whale Branch cluster has one elementary school and an early childhood center. The Battery Creek cluster has three elementary schools. (Beaufort Elementary is listed as part of both the Beaufort and Battery Creek clusters.)
We'll see over the course of the school year how deputies divide their time and whether they think they're accomplishing the program's stated goals.
But the Sheriff's Office certainly is on the right track with a program that brings a consistent and more focused law enforcement presence to our schools, with a goal of protecting our children and making them more comfortable with law enforcement officers.