CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Starting next month, Kanawha County sheriff's deputies will regularly visit local schools. Not just Kanawha County's high schools, but also local middle and elementary schools.
"We're going to go to every school in the county periodically," said Sheriff Johnny Rutherford. "We want high visibility."
Members of the Kanawha County Commission are expected to approve $30,000 in funding for the program at a regular meeting Thursday.
Rutherford said the money will be used to pay for overtime for deputies to spend four-hour shifts visiting local schools. Rutherford plans more than 200 random school visits before the end of the school year.
Rutherford said the new program, an extension of the county's Graduation, Prom, Alive program that stresses student safety, was not developed specifically in response to an increasing number of school shootings nationally, but is designed to provide an extra measure of safety in an increasingly complicated world.
"It's a response to everything that's going on today," the sheriff said. "We're going to be aggressive and go into the schools."
Kanawha County already has three school resource officers, deputies who are stationed full-time at Riverside High School, Herbert Hoover High School and Sissonville High School. They also spend some time at several area middle schools.
But the new program will allow for more deputies to visit more schools in the county. Rutherford said the deputies will walk the halls, talk to students and work with faculty and staff on ways to make their schools safer.
"If they want us to teach classes, we'll even teach classes in safety," he said.
Kanawha County Superintendent Ron Duerring said school officials have already installed buzzers and other devices to control access to the county's schools and tried to make the environment as safe as possible. He welcomes further visits by deputies.
"We're grateful for the extra protection they're going to give us," he said.
Deputies and school staff at those schools where deputies are already stationed like the arrangement.
"It's a great preventative tool," said Riverside High School Principal Valery Harper. Extending deputy visits to middle and elementary schools is a good idea, she said. "Bad things don't just happen in high schools any more."
Putting deputies in the schools helps build trust and understanding between students and law enforcement, said Riverside resource officer Cpl. Richard Lane. Teachers and staff get to know the deputies, and students can provide valuable information.
Recently, Lane began taking his new puppy, Adele, to Riverside. The result was immediate.
"It just opened up a whole new envelope of kids coming up to pet the dog," Lane said. "I've talked to kids that never talked to me before."
Originally funded by federal grants, Kanawha County officials thought the three school deputies were important enough that they kept paying their salaries after the grants dried up.
Rutherford said the safety tips and relationships built between school staff and deputies under the new program will help in the event of a school emergency like a shooting.
Sheriff's department training officer Lt. Keith Vititoe said deputies have been actively training to respond to shooting incidents since 2006. Deputies now have detailed information on the layout of every county school, and can access floor plans to the buildings from the computers in their cars, he said.
Rutherford plans to continue the program next school year.
Reach Rusty Marks at rustyma...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.