NEW MANCHESTER - With the start of the 2014-2015 school year, Hancock County likely will be the first school district in West Virginia to adopt prevention resource officers for its elementary schools.
Hancock County Sheriff Ralph Fletcher said he is naming three deputies to PRO positions to give the county's three elementary schools greater security.
"I think our county's been moving toward this for quite some time," Fletcher said, "but with what's going on throughout the country, that's raised concerns and fears for (the safety of) our children."
Deputy 1st Class Brian Hissam will move from Oak Glen High School to the new Weirton Elementary School in August, and Deputy 1st Class James McGaffick, currently the PRO at Oak Glen Middle School, will fill the vacancy at the high school, Fletcher said.
"(McGaffick is) moving to the high school with children with whom he's already established a rapport," Fletcher said, noting that McGaffick has been with the department since 2005 and is finishing his second full year at OGMS.
The other PROs are:
Deputy 1st Class Brian Cunningham, who will be assigned to the middle school. He has been with the department since 2008.
Deputy 1st Class Scott Gittings, who will be assigned to Allison Elementary School in Chester. A former road officer, bailiff and K-9 officer, he has been with the department since 1992.
Deputy 1st Class Doug Wade, who will be assigned to New Manchester Elementary School. He has been with the department since 2005.
Fletcher said he wanted experienced deputies working as prevention resource officers.
"With this change in assignments, I've put a great deal of thought into it," he said. "I wanted officers in those positions who wanted to be there, who had a desire to make the move and who had ideas on how they could be helpful."
Deputies who were interested in the positions were encouraged to apply and submit a cover letter. Six deputies applied, he said.
"I got some really fine, well-written letters," Fletcher said.
The new resource officers are made possible through voters' renewal of the Hancock County School excess levy in November 2013. The levy's passage allowed the district to increase its annual security allocation from $128,000 to $380,000.
That extra money will help pay for the additional staff, as well as security technology improvements, through 2019.
"This is a huge responsibility - being an officer in the schools," Fletcher said. "With the elementary levels, it's even more so and there's a chance to make more of a difference."
Hancock County schools have had resource officers since 1998, with the sheriff's department providing deputies for Oak Glen High School and Middle School and the Weirton Police Department providing officers for Weir High School and Middle School. Fletcher was Weirton police chief when the county first got grant funding for the program.
In recent years, as the state's commitment has dwindled, funding for the PRO program has fallen increasingly on the Hancock County commissioners and the Hancock County school board.
The five PROs will receive basic and advanced training in two sessions over the summer, Hissam said.
The sheriff's department has hired two officers, and will hire a third, to replace the ones who are being taken off the road for PRO duties.