SIDNEY — The Democrat candidate for state attorney general, David Pepper, visited Shelby County Thursday morning to see for himself how this small county in rural Western Ohio has pulled ahead of the pack in protecting its children.
Pepper said he was drawn to Shelby County when he heard about the sheriff’s program of hiring retired law enforcement officers to work as full-time school security officers.
County Sheriff John Lenhart, a Republican and a veteran of the state attorney general’s office, said he was eager for the candidate to visit and see the great strides the county has made in protecting schoolchildren.
“I think the security of our children should cross party lines,” Lenhart said. “We can’t think of anything more important we do in law enforcement than protecting our kids.”
Pepper visited Sidney Middle School and Emerson Elementary, meeting the officers in charge of school security and learning about the measures that have been put in place to protect the children.
Lenhart told him about the school officers’ duties and also about the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate) training the school teachers and officials have completed through the sheriff’s office. Lenhart said every school in the county, except Lehman, completed ALICE training through the sheriff’s office before the start of school this year.
Deputy Rick Cron, the former Piqua Police officer who heads security at Sidney Middle School, told Pepper, “We make sure everything’s secure and people are properly passed. We watch the cameras.”
Pepper was shown the monitor displaying footage from several security cameras placed strategically throughout the middle school.
At Emerson, Pepper met Deputy Michael E. Henry, former longtime Logan County Sheriff, who said his current position is “the greatest job I’ve ever had in my life.”
Henry told Pepper of his daily interaction with the students and stressed the difference it can make in a child’s outlook and future to have daily, positive interaction with a uniformed officer.
Lenhart made it clear that the school officers do not just stand in a corner looking intimidating or wander the halls looking for bad guys — they interact with the students, acting as tutors, mentors, supporters and positive role models.
As if to illustrate the point, after frequent glances at his watch, Henry excused himself and cut short his chat with Pepper to meet a prior commitment — his regular appointment with an autistic first-grader whom Henry escorts to gym class. Moments later, Henry reappeared with a big smile, being pulled along at the hand of a rosy-cheeked, chattering charmer in a hurry to get to the jump ropes.
One of the key portions of Pepper’s campaign platform is “Protecting Ohio’s Children,” which specifically includes a goal of getting uniformed officers back into schools.
According to figures from the attorney general’s office included in Pepper’s campaign materials, In 2010, the attorney general office provided grant support to 380 DARE/SRO (Drug Abuse Resistance Education/schoolresource officer) officers. In the past three years, that number dropped to 302 in 2012-13, to 288 in 2013-14 and to 228 in 2014-15.
Pepper’s child protection plan also addresses charter school accountability, abuse prevention, online safety and gun law enforcement.