BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - In two separate incidents, a Harrison County 8th grader and a Gulfport student were accused of bringing a gun to school, and six South Mississippi campuses received bomb threats - all within the past school year, requiring school resource officers to jump into action to keep children safe.
About 350 school resource and safety officers met in Biloxi for the School Safety and Drug-Free Conference; honing their skills and learning new techniques to keep trouble away from school campuses.
"We've been told through our careers that our safety comes first. It's not true. The people we protect, their safety comes first, even if we die in the process of protecting them," said Tim Rutledge.
Rutledge talked about the risks, roles, and rewards of the job at the conference at Biloxi Junior High on Monday. Rutledge is an instructor with LEAPS (Law Enforcement Alliance for Peer Support), an organization that offers emotional support to all law enforcement officers. His main focus was officer-involved shootings.
"We're teaching them how to handcuff, when to handcuff, how to handle the press afterwards, how to present the case to the grand jury, how to investigate the shooting," said Rutledge.
Many officers say the training helps them better deal with ongoing challenges.
"Bullying, you're always going to have that issue with students. Social media is a big issue. You have the occasional issue with narcotics," said Paul Cannette, Biloxi Schools Police Chief.
Officers say they do more than just enforce the rules.
"More interaction with the students, more of a counselor, try to be a mentor, try to lead them toward the right path," said Jessie Galloway, Ocean Springs Schools Police Chief.
For the men and women working to keep schools safe, their job is a calling.
"I enjoy it. I love it. It's one of the best jobs for me to have is being able to have a chance to change a person's life down the line to where they can have a brighter and better future," said Galloway.
Other topics at the conference include domestic violence, designer drugs, truancy, human trafficking and new laws that affect schools.