EDMOND — A school shooting half a continent away has led to a Catholic elementary school getting a full-time law enforcement officer.
With the help of a federal grant, Oklahoma County Sheriff's Deputy Ryan Locklear is nearing the end of his first month as school resource officer at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Edmond.
Parents, staff, students and Locklear appear to be content with the arrangement.
“I had the children come in and say, ‘I really like the police officer,'” Principal Angie Howard said.
For the school, it's another layer of security, which brings more peace of mind.
On Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman in Newtown, Conn., killed 20 students and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary.
St. Elizabeth's, with more than 350 students from grades pre-K to eight, already had security in place. For years, there has been just one entrance to the school, and all visitors are screened, Howard said. Yet parents wanted more, and the Parent Teacher Organization got involved.
“Safety of the children is the top priority,” said PTO President Cynthia Keenan.
Grant helps 4 schools
Various options were considered. One was to hire off-duty Edmond police officers, as is the practice at Sunday Masses at the school's parish, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.
In the spring, St. John's parishioner and Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel applied for the Department of Justice COPS (Community Oriented Policing Services) grant. Whetsel described the application process as very competitive.
“We were actually pleasantly surprised when we received the grant award notice,” Whetsel said. His office was one of 144 agencies nationwide, and two in Oklahoma, to win the grant. The Weleetka Police Department also received a grant.
In addition to St. Elizabeth's, Oklahoma County sheriff's spokesman Mark Myers said deputies were assigned to Casady School in Oklahoma City, Deer Creek School District and the Eastern Oklahoma County Technology Center. Deer Creek's three new deputies bring the total to five of Whetsel's deputies working at that campus.
PTO plays role
For the first three years of the grant, the government will pay three-fourths or about $27,000 of Locklear's salary. The St. Elizabeth's PTO, through fundraisers held during the year, will pay the other $9,000, Keenan said. On the fourth year of the program, the school picks up 100 percent of the salary. The PTO will meet next spring and discuss additional ways to raise money for the program.
At St. Elizabeth's, Howard sees Locklear as not only extra security but almost an additional faculty member. The deputy can teach bicycle safety and offer other types of safety instruction. He's with the children on the playground and he's also there when the students attend Mass at St. John's.
Whetsel welcomes the grant and the extra law enforcement at schools.
“The bottom line for me is that six new deputies have begun working within schools protecting our children,” he said.
The sheriff's office now provides deputies to 28 schools.