In an effort to enhance safety and build relationships with teachers and students, Pickerington police officers have begun making regular visits to the six schools within the city.
Since the 1990s, a Pickerington police officer has been assigned to spend his days at Pickerington High School Central to help keep an eye on security issues and be a liaison between students, staff and local law enforcement.
That officer, known as a school resource officer, has responded to security issues as they come up at the six Pickerington Schools buildings located within Pickerington city limits, but the vast majority of his time has been spent at Central.
At the outset of September, police Chief Tod Cheney launched a new initiative to increase officer presence at the other five schools in the city -- Heritage Elementary, Pickerington Elementary, Sycamore Creek Elementary, Diley Middle School and Ridgeview Junior High School.
The district's other 10 schools are located within Violet Township or Columbus (Tussing Elementary School) and are under the jurisdiction of the Fairfield County Sheriff's Office, which provides an SRO at Pickerington High School North.
Although the five buildings other than Central that are within Pickerington city limits won't have dedicated SROs that stay at the schools all day, the new initiative will result in officers making multiple visits each week.
"Several times a week, depending kind of on how busy we are, an officer will be assigned to each one of our schools in our jurisdiction," Cheney said. "They'll stop in the school, they'll go into the office and meet with the principal.
"Then they kind of just walk the halls, say 'hi' to the kids."
Cheney and district officials said they hope the new arrangement will improve school security simply from the officers being around more and having a greater presence.
Additionally, they expect the initiative to spark stronger relationships between school employees, students and police to improve community relations and to open lines of communication that could potentially thwart criminal activities at the schools or something that is being planned.
"We've always had officers as part of their regular patrols drive through the (school) parking lots, but this is expanding that to go inside the building, make contacts," Cheney said. "It's just going to be part of their normal patrol duties.
"Instead of just driving through the parking lot, they're actually going in to interact. It's going to take 15 to 20 minutes for an officer to do this on the days he stops."
On Sept. 9, Ridgeview Principal Eric Koch led police officer Jeremy Collier on a tour of the school so the officer could familiarize himself with its layout.
"We're trying to develop a better relationship between our police department and the school district," Koch said.
"We want to have a little bit more presence to make sure that everybody is safe here at Ridgeview Junior High and within our school district."
During the walk-through, Collier took note of various classroom spaces, restroom areas and emergency exits.
He said he was looking forward to spending more time at the school and getting to know its staff and students.
"We're happy to be in the schools," Collier said. "We just want to get a better presence within the schools and just add a little more safety for the students and staff."
According to the Pickerington Finance Department, the annual salary of the full-time dedicated school resource officer assigned to Central is $82,077 this year. With employee benefits, those costs go to $124,714.
Of that amount, Pickerington Schools will pay $75,022 to have the officer work over the nine-month school year.
According to information provided by the Pickerington Schools treasurer's office, the district pays 75 percent of the salary and benefits for the deputy assigned as the SRO at North and the other schools located in Violet Township. That total for 2019-20 will be $66,943.38.
Neither the city, nor district will assume any additional costs for the new initiative to have officers visit the schools located in Pickerington each week.
"This is just going to be strictly as part of our officers' duties," Cheney said. "There aren't going to be any shared costs."
Cheney said about eight officers will be rotated to provide coverage for each school building within the city.
"The goal was to increase our services to the community," he said.
"We've always had a great relationship with the public, but I always thought it could be better. You can always improve on it.
"It could open the lines of communication ... and it's more of a visual presence.
"The schools are always a priority for us, making sure the kids in the community are as safe as possible."