A greater number of faculty members are getting involved in Richmond County school searches this year, and officials say they're making schools more secure.
"Now, we've got the complete participation of faculty," said school safety Lt. Richard Roundtree. "Before, you may have had some reservation from faculty."
Roundtree said that when a student search is planned for a middle or high school, his department coordinates with the principal and requests several faculty members to be ready to assist school safety officers.
He said students first go through wanding by school officers and then enter a second search area done by faculty. The bonus of having faculty members assist, he said, is that they don't need probable cause to search a student's bookbag, as safety officers do.
School safety has been in the spotlight after a shooting last week at a Littleton, Colo., middle school, which is less than three miles from where the Columbine High School massacre took place nearly 11 years ago.
In the Littleton case, The Associated Press has reported that a 32-year-old gunman began firing on students from the school's parking lot, wounding two.
Roundtree said that so far this year in Richmond County there hasn't been a single case of a gun on campus. He said there have been only a few incidents of pocket knives and brass knuckles found.
Roundtree said he feels the local school system's safety efforts have helped deter shooting incidents. For one thing, all middle and high schools have an assigned officer who is armed and has arresting powers.
That officer, he said, patrols inside and outside the school to make sure no one suspicious is on campus.
Roundtree said all exterior doors except main entrances are supposed to stay locked, and visitors to schools should check in at the main office prior to walking through the school. He said teachers and students know to question anyone walking the halls without a visitor's pass.
Mary Jane Anderson-Wiley, a counseling professor at Augusta State University, said there are several measures school systems can take to lessen the chance of school violence. She said the U.S. Department of Education's recommendations include: educating students and school workers to recognize early warning signs of someone who might show troubling behavior; getting counseling help for children who experience difficulties; implementing a violence prevention and response plan; teaching students effective problem-solving and conflict-resolution skills; and creating mentoring programs and bully-free schools.
Ultimately, Anderson-Wiley said a school might still experience a crisis situation, but "the point is to reduce the risk of that happening."