LISBON - Ever since last month's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., sheriff's deputies have been performing security checks during the school day at five school districts
"When the deputies are out on patrol they've been stopping by some of the schools," said Columbiana County Sheriff Ray Stone.
The school districts in Stone's jurisdiction are Beaver Local, Crestview, Southern Local, United Local and the county vocational school.
Stone credited Lt. Alan Young with coming up with the idea of having deputies stop by these schools during the course of their regular day shift duties of responding to calls, serving warrants and running jail inmates to court hearings. When their schedules allow, the deputies will show up randomly to walk the school hallways and check for unlocked doors.
"It's just to make our presence known," he said, adding the deputies are visiting each school an average of twice per week. "The deputies just pick random times on random days when it works out for them."
Stone would like to do more but lacks the staffing to assign a deputy to each school or the additional funding to hire more staff. This was last done about 10 years ago, after the former sheriff secured federal funding to hire deputies for several schools. But the program had to be canceled within a year or so after funding problems forced the sheriff's office to lay off his regular deputies.
Stone said if President Barack Obama and Congress restore federal funding for the program, which has been suggested, he would consider applying for grant money to get a deputy for as many of the schools as possible.
The response from the schools has been positive, and Stone said his deputies have already found some outside doors that were either left unsecure or with a broken lock.
"It's proactive instead of reactive, like we usually are," he said. "We'll continue doing this as long as we can ... I wish we could do more."
Stone said Columbiana police officer Wade Boley has put together a school security program that instructs teachers and administrators how to respond to school shooting situations, and Boley is planning to make the program available to schools. He said there are a number of steps school staff can take in an attempt to protect students and themselves should an armed intruder show up.
Stone also said he is not opposed to the idea of letting school staff voluntarily carry firearms if the school board agrees, provided they are familiar with firearms and undergo sufficient training and background checks
"I kind of agree with it. The only thing that can stop someone with a gun is someone else with a gun," said Stone, who is a member of the National Rifle Association and supports Ohio's concealed-weapon permit law.