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Uniformed police officer will be stationed at Grafton High School

by Gail Marsh


(Sunday, July 5) When students return to Grafton High School in the fall, they will likely meet a new addition to this year's staff -- a full-time police officer in full uniform.

The Taylor County Board of Education received a state grant totaling more than $25,000 to place a uniformed police officer at the county's only high school. The officer will serve to both deter crime and provide information to students.

"The officer will not be in the role of a disciplinarian, but will serve as a role model for our students. I think it can be very beneficial," said Kermit "Butch" Bias, Taylor County's superintendent of schools.

The grant is part of the state Division of Criminal Justice Services project for Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP). The project began last year with one officer in a Putnam County school, and has now expanded to include schools in seven other counties throughout state.

When Rebecca Mattern and Pam Knight, project coordinators, applied for the grant last fall, the issue of violence in the schools had not yet erupted across the nation.

"When some people heard that we were going to have an in-house police officer, they assumed it was because of the acts of violence that had been taking place. But our idea to have an officer in the school is more one of prevention than reaction," Mattern, coordinator of instructional support services, said.

Mattern said school officials hope to employ the officer as an educational source.

"We originally talked with Superintendent Bias about pursuing grants to help with our alternative education program. We felt it could be useful to have an officer as a positive role model to students who might be at-risk for committing juvenile crimes," she said.

Juvenile crime caseloads are at an all-time high in circuit and magistrate courts in Taylor County, Mattern said. After-school and in-school suspensions were also climbing.

"We calculated the number of instructional hours that were missed because of detentions and suspensions, and wrote the grant to help combat that problem," Knight, the individualized educational programs specialist, said.

Three goals are listed in the grant, and school officials hope to accomplish all of them by having the officer around, Mattern said.

First, the officer should serve as a deterrent for juvenile crimes in the school and in the community.

Secondly, the officer's presence should change the way students see police officers. And lastly, the officer will talk to students who may be at risk of becoming involved in juvenile crimes.

"The officer who is hired must be fully trained and able to speak before classes about juvenile crime and the law, or the consequences of driving while under the influence," Mattern said.

The Taylor County Board of Education is working with city and county law enforcement officials in the hiring process. Chief Paul Leeper of the Grafton City Police said three people have applied, and he expects the board to fill the position by next week.

"I think the program is a great idea. Years ago there was a strong-armed approach to having police officers in the school, but now an officer's presence can be a positive approach to combatting crime," he said.

Leeper said the officer who is chosen for the job must believe in what he is doing.

"Kids will pick up on whether the officer really cares about what he is doing and whether he is sensitive to their needs. The right person can make a difference in their lives," he said.

Leeper said the officer in the school will be required to wear a gun as part of his uniform, and said he sees no contradiction in that.

"When I am on duty, the gun is part of my full uniform, and it will be the same with this officer. It's never been an issue with the kids, so we don't foresee any problems," he said.