Police begin uptick in school patrols

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Jasper Police Department officer Jason Knies exchanged a fist bump with Jasper Middle School seventh-grader Sierra Martindale as the two passed in the hallways of the school Tuesday. As part of the Dubois County schools’ safety commission, officers from all local agencies have been invited to conduct walk-throughs, host safety programs and interact with students in each of the county schools.

Herald Staff Writer

Students and teachers can feel more secure knowing that local law enforcement officers have safety in mind during the school day.

This week, all Dubois County school superintendents sent letters to parents stating that police would begin visiting the schools in the area randomly. Indiana State Police Sgt. Chad Dick pitched the idea of police walk-throughs to the school administrators at a meeting of the new Dubois County School Safety Commission last month.

Dick said the plan had been formulated by Gov. Mike Pence and State Police Superintendent Douglas Carter and passed down to the various police posts throughout the state.

“The idea stems from some of the horrific incidents that we’ve had,” Dick said, referring to infamous school shooting events including the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Newtown, Conn., last December. “We know from investigations that have gone on with previous incidents that just the mere presence of police officers in and around a school facility has deterred some incidents from happening.”

Local police departments and the county sheriff’s department have jumped on board with the plan. A few walk-throughs already have been conducted and have been met with positive reactions from students and teachers, Dick said. He explained that because the money set aside for the state for schools to hire resource officers is too little, this may be the best way to increase safety without draining corporation funds. Officers can host programs, address classrooms and listen to concerns from students and teachers during their visits. Each of the 17 public school buildings in the county is now open for visits, and police also conduct drills at the Catholic schools in Jasper.

“We don’t want to be a disruption, but by all means if a teacher sees us walking through the hallway, grab us and we’ll come in and talk to the kids,” Dick said.

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Jasper Police officer Jason Knies walked through the hallways of Jasper Middle School on Tuesday afternoon.

Because officers’ schedules vary day to day, Dick and county Sheriff Donny Lampert say the officers will be encouraged to drop in at nearby schools when they have extra time or paperwork that can be completed from their cars in the school parking lots.

“We (can) let people know we’re there just to support the schools and their safety. Hopefully, the kids will build a trust. That way if they hear something, they know that something will be done and they’ll report it,” Lampert said. “With the schools, there’s a lot of things they’ve got going on during the day, and for them to open that up to us, that means a lot.”

Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools Superintendent Tracy Lorey, who was elected to be the chairperson of the school safety commission, said the police can use their walk-throughs as an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the layouts of all county schools in case of future emergencies.

“They bring a level of training that, from their viewpoint, maybe they can observe some of the additional safety issues that maybe we don’t see and we can address those. It’s really a proactive partnership just to increase the safety and help us identify any needs that we may overlook unintentionally,” Lorey said. “(When) individuals are familiar with how our buildings are laid out, they know the traffic flow, they know what the safety concerns might be. If in an emergency situation they had to respond, they would be familiar with the surroundings already.”

She added that the police presence in the schools is only one facet of a comprehensive safety plan the commission will develop. Schools also will have to continue to practice safety drills, create safety plans and build their relationships with local law enforcement agencies.

“It’s more than just one thing,” Lorey said. “It’s all of those things together that make sure the schools are safe.”

Contact Claire Moorman at cmoorman@dcherald.com.

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