The Springfield News-Sun digs into important public safety issues, including recent stories on gun thefts in Springfield and a rash of fake bomb threats at Clark County schools.
Local schools have increased the number of law enforcement officers walking their halls, including the first full-time deputy in any district in Champaign County and an additional deputy in Clark County.
School leaders said resource officers are an invaluable addition to their education staffs, including to help prevent future threats.
Graham Local Schools prioritized the new position as one of five goals in a five-year plan for the district, Superintendent Kirk Koennecke said.
“We didn’t bring in an officer because we have problems, we brought in an officer because we want to be proactive and build relationships,” he said.
The school resource officer is a joint effort between the school district and the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office, Koennecke said, the first in that county. Both parties will pay roughly $30,000 in the deal.
The Clark County Sheriff’s Office also added a third resource officer to their ranks to help with the workload the two deputies experienced last year, Sgt. Ralph Underwood said.
Deputy Nick Anderson is still in training in his new role.
“The other two are so busy we actually get backed up in the schools,” Underwood said.
Those deputies rotate among the Clark County districts outside the city of Springfield, which has its own school resource officers.
Last year a record number of Clark County bomb threats prompted lock downs on several occasions at different schools, such at Tecumseh Middle School and Greenon High School.
The extra deputy could foster relationships to prevent such problems, Underwood said.
“Each school just needs a little more attention with the way things are going in society,” he said.
The entire cost of school deputies comes out of the sheriff’s office budget, Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly said. Clark County commissioners have supported the push for deputies in schools, he said.
“It’s all for the safety of our schools and children,” Kelly said.
Depending on the tenure of the deputy, plus cost of a cruiser, the amount could total between $90,000 and $100,000 per year per deputy, he said.
School resources officers are a “wonderful outlet” for students and staff to share information with leaders, Koennecke said.
Community members told Graham school board members that a resource officer should be added to the school staff.
As Champaign County Deputy Tony Sells walked the halls of Graham High School on Wednesday — the first day of classes — he said he came across a few concerned students.
“They were a little confused at first, they kind of looked at me a little nervous,” Sells said.
But the deputy said he doesn’t want students to be afraid that he’s there for discipline. He’s there as a mentor and safety educator.
“They learn how to interact with (deputies) and us with them — that’s what I’m hoping for,” Sells said.
Graham senior Alannah Miller said students were curious about the deputy.
“Everybody’s scared, like “Why is there a cop here all the time now?’ — no one knows why he’s here yet,” she said.
It will take time to build trust with students and staff, Sells said, but he’s using the first week of classes to introduce himself to the school community.
“To show that I’m not here to be like ‘Big Brother’ to them, that I’m here to establish a relationship with them,” Sells said.
Sells believes he can have a positive impact on many students.
“We can help them with their everyday lives,” he said.
And school leaders know the important role an embedded law enforcement officer can play in an emergency, Koennecke said.
“It helps you to be proactive and helps to counteract anything from rumors to real problems that are going to occur because we want to make sure that we can respond rapidly if there is a problem,” the superintendent said.
Sells is a Graham graduate, a father of multiple children in the school district and has been active as a coach for several sports teams in the school and community, Koennecke said.
“This is my home,” Sells said about the Champaign County community.