GEORGE COUNTY, Miss. (WKRG) — There will be a visible increase in police presence around the schools in George County when students go back to the classroom next week.
The district expanded its police department from two to four officers. Caleb Davis was promoted to the district’s police chief earlier this summer while Lott Husband (covering all six elementary schools), Monica Hennis (middle school) and Adam Reuss (high school) were hired.
All three previously worked in law enforcement with the Lucedale Police or George County Sheriff’s Office and currently have children or grandchildren that are students in the district. Hennis was previously a school resource officer (SRO) for Greene County.
The first of the new hires came less than a month after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
“We had several plans in place that were not necessarily on the front burner, but there were many conversations in our district about upgrading our security, even prior to that event. However, that event made us fast track those plans,” said superintendent Wade Whitney.
The officers will be available to respond in emergency situations but will also patrol the schools daily, making sure entryways and classrooms are locked and everyone on campus is approved to be there.
Security will also be provided for athletics and other events on district property. Two used patrol cars were donated from the City of Lucedale.
“We’re not there to say ‘Oh no, stop chewing gum.’ We’re there for safety, whether it’s actually someone trying to get into school, or whatever is going on at home, or someone says ‘this is where my mental state is,’ and we can get them help from there,” said middle school SRO Monica Hennis.
The officers will be equipped with gear to respond to emergencies but will mostly wear a badge on department polos, not a traditional law enforcement uniform, in an effort to be more approachable to students.
Infrastructure upgrades will include door jammers to prevent a classroom door from being forcefully opened, and a security camera system with facial recognition capabilities in every school that can be viewed off-site.
Other districts use the software to look at the faces captured by cameras and calculate whether those faces match a “persons of interest” list made by school administrators that includes sex offenders in the area, people prohibited from seeing students by restraining orders, former students and employees who are barred from visiting the schools and others deemed “credible threats” by law enforcement.
A reverse auction will be held on August 26 to award the contract for the security camera installation. It will be paid for through federal COVID-19 relief “ESSER” funds.
The district’s five year plan calls for adding another SRO position by Fall 2023.
“It’s a process. Nothing that’s going to be 100% overnight, but we’re definitely moving forward,” said police chief Caleb Davis. “Right now we have a foundation, but from a foundation you always build up and that’s what we’re in the process of doing here.”