Three school resource officers start work Monday in Belmont County

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK Shown from left are Belmont County Commissioners J.P. Dutton and Josh Meyer, Bridgeport Superintendent Zac Shutler, Resource Officer Harley Johnston, Commissioner Mark Thomas, Belmont-Harrison Resource Officer Patricia Blackburn and Superintendent Richard Schoene, Bellaire Superintendent Darren Jenkins, Resource Officer Joyce Shimble, Bellaire Middle School Principal Derrick McAfee and Sheriff David Lucas.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Three schools in Belmont County will start next week with full-time resource officers employed through the sheriff’s department.

The Bridgeport Exempted Village School District, Bellaire Local School District and the Belmont-Harrison Career Center in St. Clairsville all contracted with the sheriff’s office, which is providing three resource officers who will work 200 days per year.

Patricia Blackburn will be on duty at the career center. Superintendent Richard Schoene said the St. Clairsville site has not had its own resource officer for nearly a decade, when the post was dropped for budgetary reasons, although some off-duty deputies had been hired to be at the school last year to provide security and visibility.

“In light of all of the things that go on in this country, especially at a high school today, there’s a lot of activity, so the need for a deputy or law enforcement is very important,” he said, adding that a formal school resource officer will bring stability and other advantages.

“The objective is school safety, making sure the kids are comfortable, and building positive relationships with law enforcement and children,” Blackburn said, adding that the resource officer position will facilitate better awareness of the students and their issues.

“That’s the big plus of having the same person,” Schoene added. “They’ll be able to build the rapport with the students and the staff, and they’ll be able to work with those students that they would know have some issues, as well as just the visibility of a law enforcement officer, making people more at ease, knowing that we have someone in the building.”

He added that the school will maintain a resource officer as long as the budget allows.

Joyce Shimble will be patrolling the halls at the three school buildings in Bellaire.

“We haven’t had a resource officer in quite a number of years,” Darren Jenkins, Bellaire superintendent, said. “We’re excited at having law enforcement as a partner in all of our buildings. We believe it will add stability to our school climate.”

Jenkins added that the district will also be compliant with Ohio House Bill 410, which became law in 2016 requiring intervention in matters of habitually truant students before juvenile court becomes involved.

“The school resource officer will be involved in those prevention conferences with students and families,” Jenkins said. “We’re looking forward to her being involved, where appropriate, with every aspect of our school culture.”

“I’m looking forward to getting to know the kids, and the kids knowing me,” Shimble said.

“We certainly believe this is going to be an ongoing service or we wouldn’t have taken it on,” Jenkins said. “We believe this is a worthwhile project that will reap benefits into the future. The idea is to be proactive with regard to our students and preventive. We hope to be able to intercede earlier with our kids, rather than react to things after they occur.”

“It’s just a great opportunity to build relationships between our students and law enforcement, which is going to benefit the community for years to come. We’re really excited,” Derrick McAfee, principal of Bellaire Middle School, said.

Harley Johnston will serve at the Bridgeport Exempted Village School District.

“I firmly believe a resource officer is a tremendous asset to the school,” Zac Shutler, Bridgeport superintendent, said, adding that the district’s budget is sufficient to maintain a resource officer for the next several years. He said the district has not had a resource officer for several years. “I believe resource officers should be in every school, not just for the safety of students but also for the community relations aspect. I believe they play a major role in education and in community relations. Working with the (Belmont County) commissioners, working with the sheriff, it was an opportunity to really provide something for Bridgeport they have not had in awhile, and we are looking forward to Officer Johnston being a part of our community and working with our students and our families.”