The Franklin County Sheriff’s Office will continue a successful program that creates bonds with schoolchildren.
Sheriff’s office staff will again meet with students before classes at unincorporated Franklin County schools through “Open Doors.”
“It is important that we build relationships with kids,” said Sheriff Steve Pelton.
Open Doors was developed because some students have a negative perception of law enforcement either because their parents or family members have had interactions with law enforcement or because they may have seen bad images on television.
This year the department will reach out to first responders in the respective fire and ambulance districts, inviting them to participate in the program.
“We want them to recognize all uniform personnel to build relationships,” Pelton added. “It is important for children to see them as individuals instead of simply authority figures.”
Open Doors began in 2017 as a way to encourage positive relationships between law enforcement and students. On-duty personnel gather at Union schools to open car doors and school doors for students, as well as give them high-fives, fist bumps and a friendly smile first thing in the morning.
Rick Neace, Union police school resource officer at Central Elementary, and Assistant Principal Rob Rogers sought more ways for students to interact with officers. Together, they came up with Open Doors.
The program quickly spread to the sheriff’s office, and other municipalities in the county, including Washington.
The sheriff’s office, along with other first responders, held the first Open Doors event at Robertsville Elementary Tuesday, Sept. 4.
They will visit the following elementary schools in the future: Lonedell, Thursday, Sept. 6; Nike Base, Tuesday, Sept. 11; Coleman, Tuesday, Sept. 18; Clearview, Thursday, Sept. 20; Beaufort, Tuesday, Sept. 25; and Franklin County R-II, Thursday, Sept. 27.
Since Pelton took office in early 2017, he pledged to continue the support of youth in the community.
That includes teaching D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) classes.
There are two D.A.R.E. officers, Deputy James O’Fallon and Cpl. James Harden, who visit multiple schools in the county and one just outside the county, in Richwoods. They teach mostly fifth-grade students how to make positive choices, not only in saying no to drugs, but in having the confidence to make their own choices.
Pelton has stated collaboration with schools, not limited to the D.A.R.E. program, is important to the department.