Seymour schools add third officer

Seymour Community School Corp. has added a third school resource officer to help close the gap in security coverage at Seymour Middle School.

Currently, the district has Seymour Police Officer Keith Williams working full time at Seymour High School and the Jackson County Learning Center and reserve Officer Jack Hauer rotating through the other buildings daily.

A third officer, Craig Owens, will provide a constant presence at the middle school and the Seymour Middle School Sixth-Grade Center beginning after the Christmas break. His duties will include responding to situations involving safety, security, discipline and other law enforcement issues at both sites.

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That will leave Hauer free to focus on the elementary schools.

“We think that provides the best secure coverage for the schools to keep them safe,” Williams said.

Superintendent Rob Hooker said the officers are an essential part of the school environment today.

“These officers are more than just cops in our schools,” Hooker said. “They are trained specifically for working with students and managing situations in a school setting.”

Although officers are trained to make arrests, Hooker said resource officers also are trained to prevent arrests, serving as a deterrent to threats and criminal activity at the schools.

“This program is so much more than just putting another gun in schools,” he said. “Our (officers) are already trained and experienced to react to high-stress situations.”

School board president Art Juergens said the resource officer program has made a positive impact on the schools.

“Our highest priority is to keep our kids safe,” he said.

Owens’ salary will be funded through money the school recently received from the state’s Secured School Safety grant program. Seymour received $50,000, which it had to match for a total of $100,000 in available school safety funds. Some of that money will be used to purchase and upgrade surveillance systems at the schools, which will allow office personnel to see who is trying to gain access to buildings before letting anyone in the doors.

Owens joined the Seymour Police Department in February 2003.

Police Chief Bill Abbott said an effective school resource officer is someone with a desire and willingness to work with children and be a positive influence on them, especially those in middle school.

“You’re dealing with kids that are easily influenced,” Abbott said. “It’s a pivotal time in a child’s development. Having an officer in the building gives them someone to talk to and to see doing the right thing.”

Abbott said when it comes to choosing resource officers, he lets the officers decide if they are interested in the position instead of just assigning the duty.

“He expressed an interest in the job,” Abbott said of Owens. “He has a middle-school age child himself and said he would like to have this opportunity.”

Having Owens at the schools full time will not leave the department’s street patrol shorthanded, Abbott said.

“It’s sad that we have to have them in the schools, but overall, given the climate with school shootings, it’s very prudent to have officers in schools,” Abbott said. “I would like to be able to have one in every school, every day, but fiscally and logistically, it’s impossible.”

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.