NEWS

Exchanging resource for security

DERON TALLEY, EDITOR @dvillechief

After the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office and Ascension Parish School Board joined efforts to expand security in the schools. The expansion and new plan went into effect on April 1 and the APSO believes moving from the School Resource Officer model to the current School Security Officer model was the best fit in protecting the students, teachers and administrators best.

APSO Sheriff Jeff Wiley said the SRO was a good model, but one of the issues with it was the deputies were beginning to handle administrative work, such as assigning lockers or parking passes particularly at the high schools.

“We want our deputies to be more global than that,” Wiley said. “School Security Officer, which doesn’t mean he or she wouldn’t intervene when necessary, but we’re wanting our duty teachers and building administrators to do more of that.

The SSO model contains 16 trained deputies who will rotate schools every ten days. The SSO will be on a high school campus from the school’s opening to closing, and there will also be four permanent full-time officer who patrols the middle, elementary and primary schools that will be zoned into four sections.

Wiley said frankly the expansions came due to the Sandy Hook shooting that took place in Newtown, Conn. in December of 2012. He said after that shooting the realization came that it was necessary to go further in foot patrols on the campuses.

With the vamping in security, the APSO believes having more deputies who know the campuses better serves the schools, despite having to give up something the SRO offered, relationships.

“If the kid wants to talk to the deputy, we want to do less of that admittedly,” Wiley said. “There’s guidance counselors, there’s assistant principals, coaches and etc. who are there to do that.”

Wiley said the new plan can have a different effect in terms of relationships, such as the kids being able to know more faces who are there to protect them. He also said it will help his deputies who will go back on patrol as part of the rotation.

“I’m hoping the 16 officers, after there two week stints, will have a better appreciation of kids when they are out there on the streets and a couple of them may be mixing it up,” Wiley said.

APSO Captain Dean Werner said in the beginning he looked at the expansion and thought “we may be losing something,” and then he said as the program started to work out, “I think the schools are actually getting a lot more.”

Werner said he had the opportunity to go around and speak to all the principals about the new plan and he said they all were satisfied with it. Werner said also by the kids seeing multiples of officers showing up allows children to interact with a new positive figure.

The 16 deputies have been shadowing the former SROs until the end of this school year, and they’ve gotten a chance to go to one or two schools before the end of the school year. They will also have two and a half months for more training to get them more acclimated to the school grounds.

The SSOs also have maps of all the campuses and by the fall, each of them is expected to be familiar with every campus, the general layout of the campus.

There are five to six rotations that will take place during the year for each deputy, which means more personnel will know their way around the schools in case of emergency.

“With this rotation, now there will be deputies on each shift who can respond and know exactly where the problem is,” Lt. Colonel Bobby Webre said.

APSO Major Ward Webb said the guys are well-trained and ready to respond, but they are not robots.

“We still have compassion, humanity and humility,” Webb said.

He said they are still going to treat an individual with respect whether it’s their first time dealing with them or have known them forever. Webb said it’s an effort to carry some of the relationship over from the SRO model because “we know we are going to miss something.”

“But we’re hoping the broader and bigger issue is the mission that we’re going to pursue, which is safer schools,” Webb said. “And a more clear role of the uniformed armed officer there.”

Sargent Charleston Demby, a 16-year SRO for the APSO, said the relationships on the high school campuses are very important, in terms of the kids being able to recognize who you are and feeling comfortable enough to come up to you and tell you something whether it’s crime related, school related, or it might be something personal.

Demby who will work as one of the four full-time SSO’s in the middle, primary and parochial schools said also there are disadvantages to it.

“The first thing that comes to mind is the parents who come to my home looking for assistance,” Demby said. “They feel too comfortable to where it’s a disadvantage in my personal life.”

Demby also said that even though his job has taken on administrative duties, such as the lockers and parking, his focus hasn’t changed.

“My primary job is security,” Demby said.

Sargent Coy Daigle serves as the supervisor of the new SSO model and he said they want to make people feel as safe as they can make them.

“But we also want the guy who has that ill thought in the back of his mind, not to know where we might be,” Daigle said, who also served as an SRO for a number of years.

“If I make him think for a second that’s not an easy place to go then this program has done its job 100 percent. I don’t care if it’s one time or a thousand times.”

Daigle said the APSO is looking at how the deputies interact with kids and trying to get them through the SRO academy, which is a 40-hour school called NASRO (National Association of School Resource Officers) certified. He said they want to put all of these guys through that so that they are still getting the training that SROs get, but they are still focusing on that safety aspect because it only takes one time.

“As SROs, we were not exactly the challengers on campus,” Daigle said. “We’re trying to weed out the little disadvantages where we are so tied into the administration that we start not focusing on the security aspect.

Daigle said while the focus is on security, it’s not just about that. He said they want to train as many people to know as much about these schools as possible and that’s going to make it safer for everybody.

“But, we’re also going to continue the service that we’ve had for so many years to these children, parents, administrators and school board that we still have a connection.”

Deputy Chase Blanchard has been shadowing Demby four days and he admits to feeling uncomfortable at the school.

“[Demby] walks around and he knows everybody and everybody is real friendly,” Blanchard said. “He knows the kids and their families, I like that aspect of it.”

“I also like that I’m hesitant about meeting just anybody walking in the door. I’m a lot more on edge and more geared towards waiting for somebody to pop out with a gun.”

Blanchard said you have to understand the kids are going to act up so you have to be mindful. He said you can’t just go in and treat them like a (criminal) on the street.

“That’s what I’ve learned from [Demby].

Wiley said if they feel like the two-week deal needs to be four weeks, they “would be foolish not to evaluate this thing as we go forward.”

Daigle said they are always asking the school board what they can do to make it better.

“We want it to make it the best program we can and keep everybody as safe as we can.”

Demby added, “It’s going to be a work in progress. I tell them the main thing is to have patience. Let the school take care of their process as far as dealing with the kids because you are on the campus and you will have to deal with students, not just that outside threat per say, you have to deal with students. Once you learn that and understand how it works, they are going to be fine.”