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A police car parked outside a school building can indicate that something bad is happening. But Campbellsville Police officers hope to change that thought.
Campbellsville Police Chief Tim Hazlette implemented a policy last week that will have police officers stopping by local school systems much more often.
He said he began the "Adopt a School" program concept in the 1990s, when he was working as a Kentucky State trooper. A shooting had just happened at Columbine High School and students and parents were looking for ways to feel safe.
"And schools weren't prepared for it," he said.
The Adopt a School program began in seven counties, Hazlette said, and was received very well.
Since Hazlette became chief nearly two years ago, he said, he has been working to help officers build rapport within the community. And while he doesn't have the personnel to designate school resources officers to work at local school systems, as Taylor County Sheriff's Office does, his officers can make routine visits to schools. Thus, the "Adopt a School" program was born.
Hazlette said that since there are school resource officers at Taylor County's school buildings, his officers will implement the program mainly at Campbellsville Independent schools. But they will also visit the other schools in Taylor County.
"Every school in the county is in the city limits," he said.
Hazlette said he hopes having officers around will provide a resource to school staff members.
"And to create a presence in and around schools," he said. "It's good for officers to walk through the building and be seen."
Hazlette said the concept of visiting schools isn't a new one, and is something his officers have always tried to do. But now, he said, visiting schools will be on their semi-daily list of activities. And there is a formal policy pertaining to the visits.
"It's just to step in and be seen," he said. "And to continue to build the rapport that already exists."
Another goal is to help teachers make sure students are focused on their studies, not worrying about whether they are safe. When visiting the schools, Hazlette said, officers can offer advice to parents, teachers and students.
Hazlette said people often see a police car somewhere and believe something is wrong or something bad has happened.
"That doesn't necessarily mean there's a problem," he said.
But seeing a police car somewhere on a regular basis, Hazlette said, can also deter would-be criminals from committing crime there.
Hazlette said he believes there is a common sense of disrespect given to authority figures today, and he hopes this program will work toward seeing that disappear.
Most teachers, parents and students likely won't notice anything is different, Hazlette said, and that's also a goal.
"We don't want to be disruptive to the school day," he said.
Hazlette said he wants people to know they can talk to police officers about their problems. But he said he doesn't want the officers to be disciplinarians or be seen as "chummy" with people.
"I want them to develop a level of respect with those they encounter," he said.
Hazlette said he is willing to have his officers teach students about careers, ethics, character and how to live a good life.
"Because when you're 15 years old, you think what you do today won't affect you when you apply for a job," he said. "It can haunt you the rest of your life. Somebody needs to let them know that."
Police are often called when someone threatens to commit a crime, such as bringing a gun to school. In the past, Hazlette said, officers haven't been able to do much in that case, since no crime has been committed.
But having police in schools more often, Hazlette said, will allow officers to begin an investigation into such threats in an attempt to prevent the crime from happening in the first place.
"Crime prevention is to create inconvenience to the would-be perpetrator," he said. "Because now the suspect knows that we know."
And after police start to investigate the threat, he said, the person's desire to commit the crime might just diminish.
Hazlette said schools are like micro communities, and what happens at them will spill over into the larger community. Having a larger presence at schools, he said, will hopefully help students talk to people when they need help.
"We're adding eyes and ears to the police department that will help us to either deter crime or to solve crime."
His officers have embraced their duties at the schools, Hazlette said.
"It's just all in a day's work," he said. "Our intentions are good. Our folks are dedicated to what they do."
And Hazlette said he anticipates the schools will continue to embrace his officers coming to visit more often.
"They've always been inviting," he said.
Campbellsville Superintendent Mike Deaton said his district is always appreciative of any help police officers provide.
"They are good partners in the educational process of our students," he said.
Because of budget constraints, Deaton said, the Campbellsville district hasn't been able to provide a school resource officer.
" ... And hopefully this program will allow us to regain their presence in our schools," he said.
"It is extremely beneficial for our students to be exposed to our law enforcement in order to better understand that they are regular people that just happen to have the awesome responsibility of keeping our community safe.
"A big part of that responsibility is educating children on the best ways to be productive, law-abiding citizens. Having daily contact with our youth is a great way to make that happen. I can't speak for every parent or guardian, but I do believe that the response in our school community will be overwhelmingly positive."