Officers on Patrol at South Mississippi Schools Help Lower Incidents

Students, teachers become accustomed to site of security, law enforcement, some say it makes them feel more comfortable

"Can you stop the spread of drugs at school? No," he said. "You do the best you can to cope and maintain a drug-free atmosphere. Most kids are very responsible. But all it takes are one or two."

Officers help schools take a stand

Sheree Nelson, assistant principal at East Central High School, said her school tracks drug issues pretty hard. They have drug arrests at the high school every year, already some this year. But she said she believes her school attracts students and parents who know they are strict.

"Students on this campus know we are serious," Nelson said.

Lt. Alfred Sexton with the Gulfport Police Department said their drug dog is the biggest tool for fighting drugs at his city schools.

"It's a deterrent in itself," Sexton said. "The kids are really scared of the dog's capabilities and knowing they are subject to search. Kids know that the dog going through the halls can happen at any time."

David Kopf, superintendent of Hancock County public schools, has two security officers from the Hancock County Sheriff's Department.

Kopf said the major advantage is a good bridge between students and law enforcement.

"It's a person of contact that children can cordially talk to," he said.

Moss Point guys

Moss Point has a seven-person, self-contained school district security staff. Ten years ago, they had three officers.

Campus police carry guns and have badges. The drug they find is mostly marijuana, sometimes methamphetamine.

But Jerry Bridges, chief of security for Moss Point schools, said, "This is definitely not an easy place to pass off drugs."

Bridges has pictures of students under the glass of his desktop and when he walks down the hall at class change, he gets a high five and sometimes a hug. He knows the students at the high school. Some come to him when he's at home in the yard.

He and his officers are there for the students' protection in more ways than one.

Capt. Lionel Howie explains:

"People are on drugs for kicks or because they have problems they can't handle. They need to be aware that there are people they can talk to and if the pressure from peers gets too bad, there are people for guidance.

"That's what we do over here."

Failure rate is high

The failure rate for people taking the School Resource Officer Basic Course is 15 to 20 percent. The standards are high, said Robert Laird, director of the state Division of School Safety.

"That's not saying anything against the person in the course," Laird said. "It takes a unique personality to be a School Resource Officer. You have to be a mentor, teacher, psychologist. Not everybody can do that."