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Kelly to increase deputy presence in schools

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Athens County police officers are commencing with a newly announced plan to establish a presence in Athens County elementary, middle and high schools.

Athens County Sheriff Patrick Kelly explained that he has been pushing for resource officers to be placed in these schools, but the lack of funding prevents it.

“We’ve been trying to have school resource officers in each one of the schools, primarily in Nelsonville, but it hasn’t worked out,” Kelly said. “An alternative program to having a special resource officer at each school would be to have deputies go in.”

Kelly added that small areas such as Athens county are neglected by federal grants, making it harder to fund resource officers.

“Let’s just say that there are minimal amounts of money to be distributed nationally and it seems that most of this money is going to larger jurisdictions than smaller areas,” Kelly said.

Without federal grant money, schools would have to fund resource officers on their own if they wanted to have them, according to Kelly.

“The school would have had to pick up all the cost of having a school resource officer, which I totally disagree with, but there is nothing else I can do about it, so this is the only avenue I have for putting some deputy, or having some presence in the schools,” Kelly said.

The lack of funding for resource officers comes despite what Kelly describes as a majority of county residents who were in favor of resource officers.

“The majority of this county was pushing in hopes that we would get to be able to put school resource officers in our schools, and I believe that the parents are more comfortable knowing that we have a presence in the schools.”

When asked how he knew that the majority of county residents were in favor of having resource officers, Kelly cited his Facebook profile.

“There was no poll. I have 5,000…a total of 10,000 people on my Facebook, so I have a pretty good idea of what the county’s needs and wants are that deals with law enforcement and other issues.”

The alternative plan, according to Kelly, is to have every school visited by at least one deputy at least once a day. These visits are to occur at unannounced times.

“During the day shift, I have three deputies, they will take turns going into every one of the school systems during the day,” Kelly said. “Five times a week, it’s unannounced, we’ll show a presence. The deputies will check in with the principals at the schools, and then walk through schools and talk with students and the staff.”

Deputies will stay at varying intervals, but they will never stay the entire day.

“They may be there for five minutes, they may be there for fifteen minutes,” Kelly said. “It all depends on the deputy and when he’s out.”

Kelly cited support from superintendents and principals.

“The five superintendents and I are all on the same page, as well as the principals, and having a presence there, it’s a deterrent,” Kelly said. “And the principals would do anything and everything they can do deter something from happening. We can’t say this is going to stop something, but when people know that there is a law enforcement presence in the school, it’s a deterrent.”

Although gun ownership has increased in recent years, and 267 concealed carry licenses in Athens County have been issued this year, according to the Ohio attorney general’s office, Kelly said that there are other reasons for having a police presence in the schools.

“It [gun violence prevention] was certainly a factor,” Kelly said. “It wasn’t the sole reason for the decision. This is something that we have been working on ever since I took office in 2009, we’ve been developing programs in conjunction with the school districts in our county, and we’ve been working together to make Athens County schools a safer place.”

Other benefits for having police in schools include parental conflicts, according to Kelly.

“And we handle a multitude of calls, it’s not just in preparation of, god forbid, an attack with a weapon,” Kelly said. “We have had at times, parents going through difficulties with divorces, and one parent will try to pick up the child, then there’s a conflict. We deal with a multitude of issues.”

Although not as effective as resource officers, Kelly said that he ultimately believes that this new measure will create a “safe atmosphere for our children.”

He also stated this program will be sustainable throughout the school year.

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