Special Report: Safe at School

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - After the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in Connecticut, The National Rifle Association said every school in the country should be protected by an armed guard.  In Dougherty County, not all schools have armed officers on campus at all times. But many do.

The school system is the only one in our area that has its own police force.  And it is a vital part of the system's effort to keep kids Safe at School.

Lt. Ted Thomas is one of 24 Dougherty County School System Police officers, and there's no other job he'd rather have.   "I love kids. I got three boys of my own, and I just love working with kids. I never know which one of them I'm gonna touch."

He's been working with kids in schools for 17-years. For the last two years Thomas has been stationed at Dougherty Comprehensive High School, where he knows most of the students by name.

And the students have a name for him "OT" for Officer Thomas.  "Yes, that's the nickname, and I honestly feel like once they give you a nickname, you've been accepted by them."

"The kids understand that OT and Officer Green are still here to help them.  They just don't want them to make wrong decisions," said one student.

Students appreciate OT's effort to get to know them. "He understands. He listens," said Quandashai Thomas, a DCHS Junior.

"If the officer don't interact with the students then if a problem do happen, they won't have the courage to go talk to the officer," said Dequille Hurley a DCHS Senior.

And Lt. Thomas says that interaction pays off. "We're approachable, and the kids are willing to come up to us, OT, they plan to have a fight today after school and be over by the gym."

Officers often get information from students that helps law enforcers prevent or investigate crimes outside the school system. "It really help cut down on crime and help solve crime in communities. Not just in the school."

Officers are also instrumental in making sure students and staff know the safety plan. Something they practice often.

"If there was a lockdown we would just close the door, put something over the window so they can't look in, and we turn off all the lights and everyone just be quiet," said Hurley.   But the officers' top priority is to make sure their campus is secure.

It makes me feel safe. It makes me feel like I can walk in this school and not have no worries," said Thomas.   "We're constantly walking the hallways, walking the building, making sure that the school is safe."

They're on the lookout for class skippers, and rule breakers.  "Freddy, pull your pants up. Take your hat off, man."

And unauthorized visitors. "That's our main goal, to try to make sure that anybody that come onto our campus, they go home at the end of the day."

A dedicated school police force, Dedicated to making sure every child in Dougherty County is safe at school.

The Dougherty County School Police Department has 19 full time officers and five part-time officers. One officer is assigned to each middle school. All high schools have two full time officers.

Officers are dispatched to elementary schools as needed. But as the system reviews its security policies this year, they will study the possibility of increasing police coverage at those schools, though that could cost more money.