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With nationwide shootings continuing to make educational facilities a target, Walker County Schools has beefed up its police presence by adding three new officers to its ranks.

Active since the beginning of the school year, the new school security guards rotate throughout the district's 15 schools, making sure doors are locked and patrolling the perimeter, while interacting with students and faculty to create an environment where everyone feels safe, said Superintendent Damon Raines.

They will also be assessing each school's security measures and pitching recommendations to make the campus more secure, should they find any issues, Raines added.

"We want to makes sure our students feel safe and secure and enjoy the experience of coming to school — and that Mom and Dad feel that same level of safety and security — and alleviate that anxiety that's associated with what we see across our nation sometimes," said Raines.

The three new positions bring the total number of officers in county schools from four to seven, as the county already had one school resource officer stationed at each Ridgeland and LaFayette high schools, and another two rotating between county elementary and middle schools as part of Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety, or CHAMPS, the safety education program for fifth-graders that has replaced DARE in many Georgia schools.

One of the three new officers comes from the LaFayette Police Department. The position is held by a rotation of officers who pick up an extra shift to handle the new duty of specifically serving the four public schools within the city, Raines said.

The other two guards are from the Walker County Sheriff's Office and make their rounds among the district's 11 remaining schools. Both new hires, they are previously retired law enforcement or fire enforcement officers, said Raines.

"There may be a time when the [Sheriff's Department officers] come into a school and the CHAMPS officer is there as well so there's a possibility that there will be some level of overlap with those 11 schools," he added.

The school board has set about $47,000 per officer to fund the positions, for a total budgeted amount of approximately $141,000 in its yearly budget. The officers will remain employees of the LaFayette Police Department and Walker County Sheriff's Office, thus keeping the responsibility of insurance, liability and training with the law enforcement agencies.

Raines said this is just the latest of the county's efforts to improve safety for students. Prior to recruiting more officers, the district worked to prevent unknown people from entering each school by forming single points of access for each building, complete with a video monitor and speaker out front that requires visitors to announce and identify themselves in order to gain entry.

Moving forward, the district has assembled a task force to determine the best way to spend an $86,000 bond the school system received from the state specifically for security improvements. Per initial feedback received from principals, Raines said those dollars could likely be used for additional cameras on the exterior and interior of the buildings to give school personnel a better viewpoint of the perimeter.

Email Myron Madden at mmadden@timesfreepress.com.

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