published Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Jasper, Tenn., police keep tabs on schools

JASPER, Tenn. — At a time when state and federal officials are discussing how to protect schools better, the Jasper Police Department is taking its own measures.

Police Chief Tim Graham said he and his officers are trying to walk through each of the city's three school buildings every day.

"We're a small department, and we realize that," he said. "Without having resource officers, we're doing what we can to make it a little safer."

There is no set schedule for the officers to arrive on each campus, officials said.

Graham said Jasper police have to prioritize any calls they may receive during regular school hours. An officer may be about to enter a school building but get a call that causes him to turn around and race to that incident, he said.

The department also is working to be "more visible" in parking areas, he said.

Marion County High School Principal Larry Zeigler said the police department is another asset the schools can use.

"The police officers are often visible inside and around the school, which adds another layer of security," he said.

City Alderman Paul "Mac" Bumpus said several teachers at Jasper Middle School told him the police walkthroughs have been "a wonderful thing."

"It's just the sight of an officer in the building," he said. "They don't come at any set time, just whenever they can."

"Having law enforcement present sends the clear message that school security is of paramount importance," Middle School Principal Ramona McEntyre said. "It also assures parents that their children are in a secure environment."

Graham said many of the younger children love to see the officers at their school.

"Some days we may not be able to get there if we've got a lot going on, but if there's nothing going on, we're working at it really hard," he said. "It's just a good thing all around."

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