TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. – “We don’t want children viewing law enforcement as disciplinarians,” said Tompkins County Sheriff Derek Osborne. That’s the motivation behind a new initiative to bring deputies into county schools for informal, friendly drop-ins.
Osborne said he has asked deputies to make quick visits to schools while out on patrol, with the goal of building trust between law enforcement and the county’s youth.
“Rather than presenting themselves as a security presence, deputies are asked to be a positive and friendly face in school hallways, during lunch, recess breaks, and at sporting events,” a media release states.
In the past, the sheriff’s office has had a minimal presence in schools according to Osborne. A deputy has been leading DARE classes in Newfield, but other schools lacked sheriff’s office programming.
Osborne said he wants to spread the department’s resources across the entire county, with an emphasis on rural schools since Ithaca City School District students already see Ithaca police officers regularly.
Superintendents from several districts have welcomed the idea, and some have reached out for specific programming. Last week, Undersheriff Jennifer Olin stopped by a preschool to read stories to kids. In June, Osborne and a corrections officer will share personal safety lessons with Lansing first-graders.
The initiative is largely informal, though, with deputies asked to stop by schools for as little as five or 10 minutes when they have downtime.
They’re encouraged, for example, to write up police reports from school parking lots when possible, a small gesture Osborne said can only make schools feel safer.
Osborne said he hopes more regular, informal engagement in schools will make a positive impression on kids.
“What I fear is when kids see our deputies in school, they automatically think something is wrong,” he said. “I want children to see deputies as a friendly face, an adult in the community who they can trust.”
He said deputies are excited to give the strategy a try.
Featured image: Undersheriff Jennifer Olin read stories to preschoolers on March 28. (Provided photo)