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Crime prevention at Newton County public high schools
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COVINGTON, Ga. - In its Sept. 17 edition, The Covington News reported that the crime rate in Newton County’s three public high schools is low in comparison to county-wide crime rates. The Newton County School System (NCSS) and the Newton County Sheriff’s Office (NCSO) work independently and cooperatively prevent crime in the schools. 

Notable among the NCSS’s independent efforts, according to Darren Berry, NCSS director of student services, are its code of conduct, graduated discipline for different disciplinary infractions, and implementation of positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS).

According to the Georgia Department of Education, “Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) is an evidence-based, data-driven framework proven to reduce disciplinary incidents, increase a school’s sense of safety and support improved academic outcomes. The premise of PBIS is that continual teaching, combined with acknowledgement or feedback of positive student behavior will reduce unnecessary discipline and promote a climate of greater productivity, safety and learning.”

The NCSO’s independent activities have included the provision of Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety (C.H.A.M.P.S.) training to NCSS 5th grade students every year since 2009. Subject matter can be tailored to the needs of individual schools, but typically includes information about drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse prevention; gangs and violence; peer pressure/bullying; and internet safety. The program is funded by local donations and has touched about 12,600 Newton County students to date.

With regard to cooperative action, the NCSS recently renewed an agreement with Newton County. That agreement runs for three years. It specifies that the NCSS will reimburse the County for the wages and benefits as well as some of the equipment needed for the NCSO to hire 15 deputies. Those deputies serve as school resource officers (SRO’s) assigned to NCSS’s middle and high schools. The estimated cost to the NCSS this year is $945,205.

An additional SRO was added to the agreement this year. That SRO will be assigned to Newton High and increase the number of police officers working within that high school from two to three.

Per the agreement, SRO’s this year have been assigned as follows: three at Alcovy High; two at Eastside High; and three at Newton High. One SRO will be assigned to each of the middle schools, including Clements, Cousins, Indian Creek, Liberty, and Veterans Memorial. There will be one at the Mainstay Academy and one “roaming officer” who will serve at the rank of corporal.

Sergeant Cortney Morrison, school resource unit commander, provides leadership with support from Captain Sammy Banks. Earlier in their careers both served as SRO’s.

Morrison stated that the basic work of an SRO is to enforce the laws of Georgia within the schools. Their job description states SRO’s are certified deputies “responsible for performing a full range of law enforcement duties and for the maintenance of order, protection of life and property, and the investigation and prevention of crime within the Newton County School System.”

But Morrison added, “They are there for the safety and security of the kids” and that SRO’s routinely go above and beyond their job description. For example, they build relationships with and mentor students, help identify and address issues in students’ home lives, and cooperate with the schools’ efforts to address behavior problems.

Morrison and Berry report that the NCSS and NCSO have a good working relationship. There is constant communication and collaboration between the NCSO, its SRO’s and NCSS administrators, teachers, and staff members. There are occasional joint training and planning activities. Both parties are committed to continuous improvement.