County deputies will have a larger presence in schools as an initiative to prevent peer pressure and substance abuse among teens.
That is one of the new goals of Sheriff Steve Pelton who took office at the first of the year.
“The youth are our future,” Pelton said. “With the vulnerability that there is in school buildings we have to safeguard them.”
There are four kindergarten through eighth grade school districts in unincorporated Franklin County, as well as parochial schools. It is at those schools that the deputies currently present the D.A.R.E. program, the drug education program taught to fifth-graders.
Pelton told The Missourian that his department will now work to instill leadership skills in eighth-graders at those schools.
Preliminary plans call for an eighth-grade intervention program that piggybacks off of the D.A.R.E. program.
“For eighth-graders we want to teach a better understanding of peer pressure, resisting drugs and confidence,” Pelton said.
He said eighth-graders are more likely to be in a situation where drugs are present, or where they may be challenged by a potentially dangerous situation.
His goal is to instill leadership skills in eighth-graders so they can walk away from those situations.
“When they do end up at a party together, where drugs or alcohol are being used, they need a leader to stand up and say, “Let’s get out of here,’ ” Pelton said.
Not only is a police presence a deterrent to crime or violence in schools, it also promotes a positive interaction with youth, Pelton said.
For some children, deputies are only visible during a crisis or an arrest.
Pelton said sometimes the only interaction some children ever have with law enforcement officers is when a family member is arrested.
“A lot of times kids don’t see us in a positive light,” he said.
Through prevention programs and a stronger presence in schools, deputies and children can interact more, creating positive relationships, he said.
Another goal for Pelton’s department is safety through education. That includes teaching Internet safety.
“Children know more about technology than grownups,” Pelton noted. “We need to teach them to be safe and vigilant so they stay out of harms way.”
Better educating students of the potential of danger online, can help prevent them from falling victim to predators who use the Internet to try and take advantage of children, he said,
Another program will use a simulator to show the dangers of texting and driving.
According to Pelton, deputies also will be in schools using a “seat belt convincer,” a machine that allows riders to experience force, up to five times their body weight, similar to that of a 5-7 mph crash.