Schools across South Mississippi are reviewing their crisis plans and intruder alert systems in the wake of the mass school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. In Jackson County, the sheriff's department is working closely with the school district to provide another layer of security on every campus.
There are 14 campuses in the Jackson County School District. For the first time, they will have a strong law enforcement presence for safety and some peace of mind.
There is a new person walking the halls this week at St. Martin High School. He is already a familiar face to the students and staff. Tim Dutton is now one of four Jackson County deputies assigned to keep watch over schools in St. Martin.
"We appreciate any help the sheriff's department can give us. We look forward to it," said Dr. Michael Van Winkle, St. Martin Assistant Superintendent. "Especially in the wake of what happened in Connecticut, I think it's soothing for students, our parents, our community to know that they actually have sheriff's deputies walking the buildings for us."
The horrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School prompted Sheriff Mike Byrd to take action. The Jackson County School District has never had officers patrolling the campuses on a regular basis before.
"It's a presence. It's a deterrent. That's the reason why we have them here," said Byrd.
The sheriff is also providing four officers for schools in Vancleave, and three deputies are on patrol at East Central schools.
"People are on edge. We want to make sure that we can try to comfort them and let their fears be subsided, because we're going to be here. We're going to continue to do this as long as I feel that it's necessary," said Byrd.
Sheriff Byrd said he has applied at least five times for federal grants to hire School Resource Officers for the county schools.
"We've been turned down every time, because not enough critical incidents have been reported," said Byrd. "We're going to apply again and hopefully they'll fund us."
"We've actually applied as a school district for them, too, but have been denied," said Van Winkle. "So between the two of us, hopefully we can get them in."
The Jackson County Sheriff's Department will continue to provide other services to the school district like directing traffic, conducting drug searches, and providing security at school events.
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