News From Terre Haute, Indiana

December 10, 2013

Sheriff: School officers have been a win-win

Fewer behavior problems reported in first 9 months

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Placing armed officers in all Vigo County schools not only protects children and staff from violent acts, it also has helped prevent negative behaviors in the schools — both on the part of students and adults.

That was the consensus among those attending a meeting of the Sheriff’s Safe Schools Task Force Tuesday.

About nine months ago, the Vigo County School Corp., in cooperation with the city and county, worked together and found funding to place school protection officers in each school.

The task force met Tuesday to talk about how the school security initiative has been working and also to update some of the School Board and County Council members.

“It’s been a win-win all the way around,” said Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing.

In an interview after the meeting, he said, “I think citizens are happy with the school security and don’t see it as a prison.”

For the program to be successful, “You’ve got to find that right person to work in that school environment. When you can get those two to match, the [officers] become part of the fabric of that school,” Ewing said.

The protection officers sometimes may even take on a kind of counseling role, talking to people and helping diffuse situations before they escalate, he said.

Jason Brentlinger, of the Terre Haute Police Department, said the number of police reports from schools to the juvenile division has declined. Minor issues are being dealt with at the school level, which allows police to focus on the more serious issues. “It’s really had an impact,” he said.

Terre Haute Police Lt. Hugh Crawford noted that in one situation where a parent drove recklessly through an elementary school parking lot, endangering children, that person was arrested by the SPO.

Superintendent Dan Tanoos described the program as “a huge success” and it has exceeded expectations. It protects schools from violence and deters negative behaviors; also, police serve as positive role models for students and develop positive relationships with them.

Ray Azar, VCSC director of student services, noted that part of a $50,000 state grant is being used to provide advanced training for three SPOs to become school resource officers.

The resource officers, who will work at Fayette, Ouabache and Sarah Scott Middle School, will have expanded roles at those schools and do educational and safety activities. In addition, they will work more closely with certain students “who need a little bit of extra support,” whether to keep those students out of trouble or perhaps give them someone to talk to, Azar said.

Officials also noted that Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, in which 20 children and six educators died in Newtown, Conn.

The shootings are what prompted local officials to develop the new school security initiative, placing protection officers in each school.

“We’ll continue what our school protection officers are doing on a daily basis,” Ewing said.  “However, we are cognitive this is an anniversary date.” He anticipates some degree of heightened security to ensure VCSC students and staff remain safe.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.