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Resource officers help boost school safety

Those involved in launching the school resource officer program are, from left, Superintendent Larry B. Mitchell, Sheriff Ben Caldwell, Deputy Adam Rencher, Deputy Tim Lancaster, Deputy Darrell Bullard and Assistant Superintendent Ritchie Williams, along with the Alcorn County Board of Supervisors.

By Jebb Johnston

jjohnston@dailycorinthian.com

Once a rarity, the presence of a law enforcement officer alongside students in the Alcorn School District is now routine.

The school resource officer program, which launched near the end of the last school year, has begun its first full year of putting an officer on each of the three campuses.

"Getting to know the kids and them getting to know you — that's important," said Tim Lancaster, who is currently assigned to the Biggersville campus. "Especially for the kids to get to know you, and you build a rapport with them."

Adam Rencher is currently assigned to Kossuth, and Darrell Bullard is working at the Alcorn Central campus. They will rotate each semester.

The program was one of Sheriff Ben Caldwell's top goals.

"They are there every school day with our kids, keeping them safe," he said. "It also gives the kids somebody to look at as a mentor. It's very important to me for law enforcement to be a part of these young people's lives so they can see we're here to help them."

The increased law enforcement visibility — funded by a grant, the school district and the Alcorn County Board of Supervisors — is a sign of changing times.

"You see what's happened in some of these other places, and I'm sure they weren't a whole lot different than the Alcorn School District," said Caldwell. "Sandy Hook and Parkland — they never thought that would happen there, but it did. That's something we as a whole law enforcement community are taking seriously."

In addition to keeping an eye on security, the officers can be found helping with traffic, working ballgames and becoming part of the fabric of school life from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. Students at Kossuth recently sang "Happy Birthday" to Rencher.

"These kids are really drawn to these three on campus as they talk to them and share with them," said Assistant Superintendent Ritchie Williams. "A lot of parents have made comments about how much they like having these guys there. It's a safer feeling. The benefits are immeasurable, what it's going to do."

Lancaster previously worked as a school resource officer in Tishomingo County.

"For lack of a better term," he said, "you can gain intelligence from students about things that are going on — John is going to fight Bobby at this time, or something like that."

Deputy Larry Duncan, who conducts the DARE drug education program, previously had part-time duty as a school resource officer.

"This is freeing him up to do more with the DARE program," said Caldwell, with DARE expanding beyond fifth grade to include seventh grade and high school.

Before the resource officer program began, the department's patrol deputies made walk-throughs of each school daily.

"We haven't stopped that, so it's not just these three guys," said Caldwell. "The more presence we can have around those kids, the better I think it is for everybody."