Brooke school officers receive state awards

WELLSBURG – For Brooke County Sheriff’s Deputies Larry Palmer and John White, serving as prevention resource officers at local schools isn’t just a 9-to-5 job.

And both recently received state awards for their efforts over the years to serve as a link between the sheriff’s department and the students and staff at their schools.

Palmer has been named West Virginia Prevention Resource Officer of the Year, an honor he also received in 2002; and White has been named the state’s PRO Regional Liaison of the Year.

The Prevention Resource Officer of the Year is determined by officials with the state Division of Justice and Community Services and several PROs who serve as regional liaisons to the program.

The regional liaisons help to disseminate information from the state officials to the PROs in their region and ensure they have received the training required to be certified as PROs.

The Regional Liaison of the Year is a new award determined by votes entered by PROs throughout the state.

Palmer has served as a PRO for about 10 years, working at various times at Brooke High School and Follansbee Middle School and most recently, Wellsburg Middle School. White has served as a PRO at Brooke High School since 2004 and for several years has submitted grant applications for Brooke County’s PRO positions, including a position at Follansbee Middle School curently held by Deputy Darin Pizer.

As a regional liaison, White works with about 10 school officers in Hancock, Brooke and Ohio counties.

He and Palmer are among about 50 PROs in the state, including four in Hancock County.

The two stressed their role is not as security guards, though he and other PROs have been trained in handling violent incidents, should they occur.

White said prevention resource officers are intended to serve three roles: the obvious function of providing security through their daily presence at their schools; mentoring students who are at risk of dropping out or being influenced by negative elements; and talking to students about issues related to law enforcement.

“I have spoken to driver’s ed clasess about DUI (driving under the influence), business and personal law classes about the Fourth Amendment (the Constributional right against unreasonable searches and seizures) and health classes about drug addiction,” White said.

Palmer said most of all, the program helps to establish a line of communication between youth and law enforcement in hopes they will see police officers in a positive light.

Last year the Brooke County deputies brought to the middle schools Clarksburg police officers and the We Take a Stand program, a nationally honored program that offers youth direction in dealing with various forms of bullying, including cyber-bullying.

Palmer said it was a timely subject, as more teens are using Facebook and other social media to harass, intimidate and threaten their peers.

The officers also have visited elementary schools in Brooke County to instruct them in avoiding strangers when they are alone.

He said one of the most challenging aspects of his job is altering his approach when dealing with the broad range of attitudes and levels of maturity of the youth he encounters.

“But I love working with the kids,” he said.

Both Palmer and White spend time with youth outside school, serving as coaches for school or independent sports teams.

“We also have attended sporting events and dances at the schools sometimes,” Palmer said.

During summer and holiday breaks, the deputies return to more conventional police beats. But they must undergo a week of training in the summer to be re-certified as PROs.

In June Palmer and White joined PROs from 33 West Virginia counties in attending a Lions Quest training program funded by Lions International and involving trainers and volunteers from Lions clubs in Wheeling and various other locations.

The officers received instruction in organizing students for team-oriented classroom activities and in conveying to youth peaceful means to resolve conflicts, among other skills and issues.

White expressed appreciation to Toni Shute, principal of Brooke High School; and Rob Robinson, facilities supervisor for Brooke County Schools; for their assistance in making the school available on relatively short notice.

White explained a larger state conference, with more presentations, had been planned but was cut because of funding issues. The Lions Quest program was retained because it was being offered at no cost.

Palmer and White said year-round they have received support from the principals and staff at their schools as well as the Brooke County Board of Education, which has contributed funds to help keep officers at the three schools. The Brooke County Sheriff’s Department also has contributed to the officers’ salaries and expenses.

Upon learning the sheriff’s department hasn’t received state grants for the three Brooke PROs, White said he’s disappointed but confident Sheriff Chuck Jackson will attempt to find a workable solution.

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