The Washington County Sheriff's Office wants to work with local high schools to develop a leadership program that is beneficial to both students and law enforcement.
The program would put deputies in touch with formal and informal student leaders to help them build up leadership skills while learning how to help steer their peers away from drugs, violence and bullying, said sheriff's Capt. Troy Hawkins. In addition to students earning a certificate they could include with resumes and college applications, there are advantages for the deputies, he said.
"One, it'll give a little more deputy presence in the schools," Hawkins said. "It helps us identify more exact, more precise problems from within an individual school from getting feedback from that student body."
Increasing law enforcement's presence in schools has been an area of focus since the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton, Conn. Deputies have access to office space at Warren High School and periodically touch base with other schools.
Hawkins has already been in talks with Warren High School Principal Ben Cunningham about the program. Cunningham said specifics are still being ironed out, but he likes the concept.
"Having positive relationships with law enforcement, the opportunity for students to gain and demonstrate leadership skills ... it's a win-win situation," he said.
Hawkins also plans to reach out to Fort Frye, Frontier and Waterford high schools. The program could eventually expand to include Belpre and Marietta as well.
The format will vary on a school-by-school basis, Hawkins said. In some cases there may be in-school activities; in others, after school could work best.
"It's still in the development stages," he said.
Hawkins envisions students meeting certain goals to earn their certificate, such as speaking to school groups or new students about subjects like dealing with peer pressure to use drugs or alcohol. He also expects to discuss newer drugs like bath salts with them and strategies for recognizing and dealing with bullying.
There's no set timetable for getting the program underway, but Hawkins said he would like to see something started in the next couple of months.