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Increased officer presence aims to improve safety at elementary schools
Riverbend Elementary principal Debra Smith introduces Hall County Deputy Kristi Smith on Wednesday afternoon to a class of third-graders. Deputy Smith is part of an effort by the Hall County Sheriff’s Office to have more of a presence in the elementary schools. Currently elementary schools have no school resource officer.

Patrol Deputy Kristi Smith stopped by Riverbend Elementary School during her shift Wednesday afternoon just to say hello to the teachers, administrators and students.

She and other patrol deputies with the Hall County Sheriff’s Office will be spending more time at county elementary schools in an effort to improve school safety.

“We’ll be doing it at every elementary school because they do not have a (school resource officer),” said Sgt. Earl Roach, sheriff’s office SRO supervisor. “The high schools and middle schools have an SRO assigned to the school but elementary schools don’t. ... But we’ve got a district officer who rides by every day, let them come by.”

The idea is simple enough. Deputies on patrol will drop by the schools in their district as often as they can during their 12-hour shifts.

The visits won’t be scheduled but they will be regular enough so that people with ill intent won’t know when to expect an officer’s arrival but they’ll know it’s coming.

Roach said the schools have accepted the officers with open arms. The schools have even given the officers open invitations to come inside the school for anything they may need during the day, like coffee, restrooms or to use a desk or computer.

Smith said she intends to stop by the school at least once every day but likely more often.

“I’ll come by even when school may not be in session,” Smith said. “But they have after-school activities so if I need to get caught up on reports, I can just park in the parking lot and work on my report.”

Riverbend principal Debra Smith said she’s very excited about the partnership.

“I think it’s going to add a new layer to the safety of our schools,” Debra Smith said. “I feel like we already have safe schools but you can never feel like you’re just totally safe. You’ve got to continue to find ways you can improve safety in schools.”

Debra Smith said she hopes that having the officers establish more of a presence will also help students and parents feel more comfortable, not just with the school, but with law enforcement in general.

“I want kids to see them as not that something is wrong, but that (the deputy is) just a guy who hangs out at our school,” Debra Smith said. “If they ever have questions or concerns, they can of course talk to them as they come through. I want parents to feel comfortable with them in our schools, too.”

Kristi Smith said that too many times a child’s only interaction with law enforcement is negative. Sometimes children’s first impression of law enforcement is when it may be called to their home during a family dispute or other crime.

But Kristi Smith said this partnership will allow her and other officers to get to know students and establish relationships.

While stopping in to say a brief hello to a third-grade class, it became obvious that the students were eager to know who she is and what she does.

The students quizzed her on each piece of her uniform.

One student said he thought she was a Boy Scout because of the color of her uniform. Other students wanted to know why she wore a bulletproof vest, why she had a radio, a Taser and a gun.

The officers will be stopping by classrooms and talking with students as they make their way through the schools, learning floor plans and safety procedures.

Debra Smith said she wants parents to understand that if they see a deputy at their child’s school, it doesn’t mean anything is amiss but that the students are safe. Often parents see law enforcement parked outside of the school and call her concerned about why an officer is needed.

“I want it to be when they see somebody sitting out there, that it’s just somebody who is a part of our school,” Debra Smith said. “She’s here today walking through, getting lunch, maybe having a cup of coffee, making a restroom stop here, that sort of thing. We’re just wanting them to be a part of what’s going on in our schools anyway.”

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