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Schools add resource

Deputies keep pace, peace on campus

POSTED: March 12, 2013 12:30 a.m.
Jim Dean/

South Forsyth High School student Drew Schmidt chats with school resource officer Steve Honn Wednesday between classes. Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office has expanded it SRO unit from seven to 14 deputies.

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Steve Honn’s eyes darted across the halls of South Forsyth High School on a recent morning while he chatted with a teacher about a class assignment.

Students shuffled between class periods, laughing with each other and waving at friends.

Most didn’t even glance twice at the tall man with a badge and a gun secured in its holster, though a few said “hello.”

South Forsyth has become accustomed to the presence of a Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy, since a school resource officer has patrolled the campus for about 15 years, when the partnership program began.

Two weeks ago, however, the unit expanded from seven to 14, which allows for one officer at each high school and middle school, with roaming patrols at neighboring elementary schools.

Each half of the county also has a sergeant overseeing the deputies and schools in that area, for a unit total of 16 people.

The increased school presence was announced within Sheriff Duane Piper’s first two weeks in office, which began in January.
Sgt. Eric Silveus said the deputies promote a safe environment, enforce laws and provide a link to the sheriff’s office for students, parents and faculty.

“Our kids shouldn’t be afraid to come to school,” Silveus said. “We want them to feel safe.”

South Forsyth senior Drew Schmidt said having a resource officer at his school reinforces the feeling that campus is a safe place.

During his class period working in the front office, Schmidt sees Honn as a helpful source, greeting people and talking to students.

A school resource officer does more than protect and patrol.

Silveus said each officer acts in several different sheriff’s office capacities within a school, which with about 3,000 people can feel “like its own little town.”

The deputy also creates a connection and comfort with law enforcement for students, he said.

“It helps us bridge the gap,” Silveus said. “A lot of times within the community, there are walls built up between kids nowadays and police officers.”

Deputy Adam Campbell, one of the recently added school resource officers, likes to eat with students in the Lakeside Middle cafeteria to establish that relationship.

“But it’s hard to eat because I get so many questions from the kids,” Campbell said. “They’re just ecstatic to see me there.”

He’s also working in the classroom to help with safety education and even science assignments.

“It lets them see me as not just a police officer, but a person,” he said.

That familiar face can provide a stable adult role model for students to talk to — not just playful questions about weapons on a belt, but a grown-up who can help in serious situations.

Honn’s office at South Forsyth is positioned next to a social worker and the school counselors, so all of those helpers for the students can work together.

He said the two chairs in the room are often used for conferences with a student and a parent to discuss any behavioral issues or potential law violations.

Silveus said most discipline issues are handled by school authorities, but crimes such as bringing drugs or alcohol on campus are enforced.

The deputies try also to get parents involved to work together to support the children, which can often be less intimidating at the school level, Silveus said.

“If kids in trouble or heading down the wrong path,” he said, “parents might feel more comfortable discussing those issues with a deputy they’ve seen and they know.”

The job description carries several duties, but the recent seven openings drew nearly 28 applicants.

Silveus said the opportunity is a great one for parents with children in the school who have a vested interest, but it also allows deputies to gain skills in a variety of areas.

“Obviously, you learn a lot about conflict resolution, mentoring, counseling,” he said. “You learn a lot about dealing with people at a more up-close-and-personal level than you would as a regular deputy on the street.

“It’s a more personal one-on-one approach with the parents and the students and the staff.”

 

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