More school resource officers to be stationed at local campuses

Published 3:42 am Saturday, August 17, 2019

With public schools in Beaufort County back in session starting Aug. 26, parents can drop their kids off with peace of mind, knowing there will be more sworn deputies in local schools than ever before.

A recent press release from Beaufort County Sheriff Ernie Coleman announced the SRO program and the protection of local students will remain a top priority for his office in the coming school year.

“It is my personal goal in the future to work with the school superintendent, the Beaufort County School Board, and the Beaufort County Commissioners to ensure my office has adequate funding and support to keep an officer in every public school in Beaufort County from now on,” Coleman stated in the release.

Beaufort County Schools Superintendent Matthew Cheeseman says while there are still a few SRO positions to fill to have a deputy on each campus, the school system welcomes the increased law enforcement presence.

“It’s something that, over my career, I’ve advocated for in the different places I’ve been,” Cheeseman said. “I think it’s really important to have great relationships with any of your first responders, including law enforcement. The fact that our county recognizes the need and that response time means everything, we’re very excited that we would have an SRO in every building.”

For the deputies already in place, and those now stepping into that role, an SRO is more than just a protector — they also serve as counselors, advocates for kids, mentors and friends.

“You’ve got so many kids out there who school is their only safe place,” said Deputy Darleen Sasser. “Their home life is not the typical home life. Law enforcement is a show of authority, but it’s also a show of compassion. So I think it’s important that the kids see that. They know that when they come to school, not only are they safe, they’re welcome.”

But not just anyone can do the job, however. Deputies have to have the right temperament to work with kids, prior law enforcement experience and specialized training to become an SRO. Deputies also work with a senior SRO before they start in their own school. In essence, they become the police chief of the school, with each campus representing their own jurisdiction.

“I’ve got two kids of my own and I just wanted to be around kids and make a difference in that way,” Deputy Daniel Folk said. “It’s a different aspect of police work, which I think is still really important — trying to change kids’ lives from the school and trying to bridge that gap between law enforcement and kids.”

“I had kids who were scared of police officers when I first went to the elementary school,” added John Cotten Tayloe SRO Ashley Buck. “Now the second they see me, whether it be at the store or at the school, they’ll run up and give me a hug and tell their mom and dad, ‘That’s my police officer.’”

Those relationships, and the trust they build, follow them beyond their school years, according to Cpl. Darin Hall. These same students remember their SROs later in life, and Hall says they sometimes come back for advice, be it for a traffic ticket or something more serious.

“A lot of us work high schools, and we’re at sporting events and all kinds of extra things outside of school, so you’re with the kids and staff a lot,” Hall said. “So it’s kind of family-oriented to a point, where you have a vested interest to keep the place safe. You want to keep the place safe for everybody that you’re there working with.”