Starting this fall, Berkeley Springs High School students will have another person to call on for help with issues both inside the classroom and out on the street.
Sheriff's Department deputy Kevin Barney was hired last month to become the high school's first Prevention Resource Officer. Berkeley Springs High School will join the ranks of more than 40 West Virginia schools with a prevention officer walking their halls.
But school officials say parents shouldn't assume Barney's uniformed presence means the high school is an unsafe place for their kids.
"We're not a school that needs a cop because it's a violent school, but because we want to be proactive," said Principal George Ward.
"This is part of a community effort to head off delinquent behaviors. The idea is to provide as many resources for kids as possible," Ward said.
Handling tough issues
According to Superintendent David Banks, the county's growth is part of what qualified Berkeley Springs High School for the grant to cover Barney's position.
That's not to say that there haven't been tough issues surface at Berkeley Springs High School.
Last year, nine students were expelled from the school. At least half of those expulsions were for possession or distribution of prescription drugs.
School staff has to deal with fights, truancy, teen pregnancy and the effects of family troubles on kids' school performance.
The police aren't strangers at the high school. The Sheriff's Department was called to the school several times last year for bomb threats, all of which turned out to be false alarms.
But Barney's role will be different than the role police have played there before. He will be at the school full time, acting as both a youth advocate and a resource for teachers.
His hope, and one of the aims of the PRO program, is to break the image of law enforcement officers as people to be afraid of.
"Any student can come talk about anything they want.
All our meetings are confi-dential, and if need be, I
can make arrangements to meet off school grounds,"
"It's worked in other counties," said Sheriff Ronald McIntire. "I think it's a good idea to get an officer in the schools and get a good rapport with the kids."
Mentoring = prevention
Barney stresses the fact that his role in the school is not as a disciplinarian.
"We're not security guards. I'm here to be a mentor to the kids. I'm not here to check around every corner, then disappear when someone has a question," he said.
The job description for a Prevention Resource Officer hinges on the title – a PRO
is supposed to reach out to kids, give them someone to talk to, provide them with practical information about life choices and consequences in hopes of preventing juvenile crime.
"No matter how good your school is, you're going to have drugs, binge drinking, issues with sex," said Barney.
As part of his job, Barney will hold classes for stu-
dents about those "non-
traditional" topics. Teachers can request these classes whenever they see a need.
Barney can draw information and curriculum from other school officers around the state.
Superintendent David Banks points out that Barney's experience, as a sheriff's deputy will bring some hard reality to kids. Instead of teachers preaching the dangers of drugs, Barney can describe what happens when a drug user or dealer is caught by police.
In addition to spending 35 hours a week at Berkeley Springs High School, Barney will be available to teach classes or visit the county's other schools. The grant funding his position, however, specifies that the high school will be his home base.
While the PRO program emphasizes good relationships between law enforcement and young people, Kevin Barney will always be an on-duty sheriff's deputy.
He will wear his uniform or badge at all times, and, as with all deputies, he will be armed.
"The uniform and firearm are for functionality. That way, I can deal with any adult if there's an incident, and the uniform identifies me to the general public," Barney said.
Barney is meant to be a student advocate, but he won't ignore the law if something dangerous or illegal is going on in the school.
"I don't like to arrest people, but I will if I have to," he said.
"If there's rapport, the kids are more likely to talk to him before something happens," said Superintendent Banks.
As the school's officer, Barney will also be a vital part of the facility's emergency operations plan, which would go into effect in the case of a bomb threat or an intruder in a school building.
Because he is an on-duty officer, Barney can take immediate action in a situation that requires a police presence. He can then assess whether more police or emergency responders are required at the school.
"In another county, the PRO officer helped stopped a massive school shooting. It's real. This program works," Barney said.
Barney's position is being funded in part by a $36,000 grant from the West Virginia Division of Criminal Justice Services. The grant was awarded to the Morgan County School Board, but financial help to cover Barney's uniform, cruiser and equipment has also come from the Morgan County Commission through the Sheriff's Department. Barney is an employee of the Sheriff's Department, but must also adhere to the high school's code of conduct for teachers and reports to Principal George Ward.
Representatives of the Sheriff's Department, school board, high school administration, student body and parents all sit on a Planning & Prevention Team as part of the grant program. The group will meet every other month to track the progress of the school officer program.
Parents or students with questions about the school officer can contact Assistant Principal Dr. Krystal Curtis at 304-258-2871, extension 104. Deputy Barney can be reached at the high school, or through the Morgan County Sheriff's Department.