“Wonderful partners to the world of education”

County schools eye increased safety for upcoming year

Published in Jan. 14, 2015 issue

Additional cameras, as well as upgrades to existing systems, will be added to Washington County school campuses to further secure the schools and keep students safe.

The Washington County Board of Education approved monies for an additional 25 to 30 exterior cameras, as well as upgrading the existing 500 camera systems at its meeting last week. The money, $30,000 for additional cameras and $108,000 to upgrade existing cameras, was taken from the remaining safety money funds provided by the county commission. The county commission provided a total of $500,000.

The upgrades are a part of a security assessment study done with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with the FBI and U.S. Marshal.

“They performed a systemwide security assessment for us a couple of years ago and made some recommendations,” Director of Schools Ron Dykes said.

The monies provided by the county commission helped to begin the implementation of those recommendations.

The upgrades will help bring the camera systems to a higher standard with increased camera resolution, greater ability for the camera to pan, tilt and zoom, as well as provide digital images. The surveillance capabilities, Dykes said, are also now remote.

“The patrol cars can literally log into the system, and they can see the activities in the schools remotely,” Dykes said.

The approved funds will also allow the purchase of additional cameras for the school campuses. Some of the cameras will be added to certain buildings where there are blind spots. Others will be added to longer hallways to shorten the camera views, as well as at some entrances and exits of the campuses.

“We continue to investigate and try to keep our buildings and campuses secure and our students as safe as possible,” Dykes said.

In addition to the camera systems, all Washington County schools have a priority access entry system to enter a campus. Dykes said if an individual goes to any of the WCDE buildings, schools in particular, there is a two-way communication before they can enter the building.

“You must buzz in now before you are allowed entry,” he said.

Other security enhancements include increased fencing, additional vehicle barriers, window tinting and additional security measures for the school buses. Dykes said each school bus has a GPS system, so its movement and behavior can be monitored throughout the day. All bus drivers also have cell phones in case of an emergency.

Safety will also be increased with the presence of School Resource Officers.

Dykes said by the end of the 2014-2015 school year, Washington County Schools will have 12 School Resource Officers, which are all full-time. He said in addition, they have two supervisors who often fill in when needed.

Dykes said six officers are stationed at a particular school full-time, while the other six rotate between schools.

“All schools are covered daily,” he said.

Three new SROs were implemented this school year in a staggered process. Dykes said two of the SROs have come on board already, and the third should be in place in a matter of weeks.

“That is due to the cooperation that we have with the sheriff’s office and willingness of the county commission to also understand the need to increase safety to this level,” he said. “We are very appreciative of the funding provided by the county commission, and the working relationship with the sheriff’s office is quite exceptional. They are wonderful partners to the world of education.”

Dykes said the sheriff’s office essentially stops their world when they call to provide assistance. He said the school system has also engaged in such proactive activities as armed intruder training with the sheriff’s office.

“Our faculty has gone through three sessions of that over the last year and a half,” Dykes said. “We try to increase not only vigilance, but awareness and skills to better protect our children with the worst case scenario (that could) happen.”


Search training to keep schools safe

At times it’s a little scary to learn about the new ways individuals are hiding weapons. The Washington County Department of Education has partnered with the Sheriff’s Office for the past three years to give its administrators the tools needed to do proper searches while the students are on campus.

Workshop provides search training to help keep schools safe

Published Feb. 4, 2014 in the Herald & Tribune

The Washington County Department of Education is partnering with the Sheriff’s Office to provide its staff with the correct training on how to search students.

“We feel like that is one area that schools should cover — the  proper searching of students in the school setting,” Assistant Director of Schools for Attendance and Discipline James Murphy said.

Murphy said the Supreme Court has maintained that students do not shed their constitutional rights when on a school campus.

In order to have a safe environment, however, students can be searched under reasonable suspicion, Murphy said. That is a lower standard set by the courts than what is generally accepted on the streets, he added, which requires a search warrant or probable cause.

All administrators for Washington County schools are required to have search training.

“We keep a list of new administrators coming in and we make sure, periodically, that every administrator in the school system has had this training,” Murphy said.

A two-hour search workshop was held on Jan. 23 for 38 school employees at Asbury Optional High School in Johnson City.

“Some schools have not had a change since their administrators had the course. We didn’t require them to come,” he said. “But we did ask every school to send someone.”

Some schools sent guidance counselors and teachers, Murphy added.  School Resource Officers also participated in the training.

Every Washington County school has a resource officer assigned, with some officers assigned to two or three schools, Murphy said.

During the training, participants are given a list of the type of school searches that could be done, as well as a list of forbidden searches on school campuses. Examples were then provided through role play.

Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal said the search workshop shows staff how to do a pat down safely in the different quadrants of the body, as well as how to protect themselves. He said two people should always be present during a pat down.

Another part of the training focuses on types of weapons, as well as the styles of clothing used to hide them. “We try to cover every scenario that we have run into,” Graybeal said.

In one exercise, 37 weapons, both guns and knives, were hidden for participants to find. That exercise is important, Graybeal said, because some weapons can look as innocent as a pen.

Since some of the clothing also have pouches to hide guns, he said they showed how to look for weapons in that scenario.

Murphy said there are essentially two school searches that are done.

“A good legal school search would be divided into two major areas, which is the jacket search with pockets turned out and the other search, which is rarely ever done, would be a pat down,” he said.

The most common search, Murphy said is a jacket and pocket search.

“We don’t encourage pat downs. Pat downs are not necessary unless there is a real substantial fear that the student has a weapon,” he said.

An exercise involving a backpack was also held during the workshop to show how to proceed once it is laid down on a table.

The importance of noticing the out-of-the-ordinary is also stressed. If someone shows up wearing a coat during the summer months, Graybeal said, it should be investigated.

The workshop, he said, is about showing school staff what is out there and how to look for certain items.

“It’s a good course, it’s very informative of what to look for and how to look for it,” Graybeal said. “It was a good day for us, a good informative day.”

Murphy said the workshop also included instruction on verbal judo by Dr. Ginger Christian. The technique teaches true listening, hearing what a person is saying and diffusing the anger.

“Occasionally in the school system, we have parents who are upset, sometimes upset by someone else,” Murphy said.

“We need to learn how to listen to them and address their concerns without becoming emotionally involved.”

Graybeal said the workshops are held upon the schools’ request.

He said the WCSO appreciates the opportunity to work with the Washington County schools to help them stay safe.

‘Connection with People’

I enjoyed this interview with Major Matt Rice of the Jonesborough Police Department. At the beginning of the interview, he warned me he wasn’t one that liked to talk about himself, much less do an interview. But, by the end of our conversation, he told me I was able to get quite a bit of information from him, something that typically doesn’t happen often. So on that note, enjoy reading about the Town of Jonesborough’s Employee of the Year.

Article published in the Herald & Tribune Dec. 31, 2013 issue

Town selects major as employee of year

Jonesborough Police Department Maj. Matt Rice was named Employee of the Year for the Town of Jonesborough in a recent ceremony during the town’s holiday employee-appreciation luncheon.

Town Administrator Bob Browning said Rice is one of those people who really cares about what he does, and he cares for the Town of Jonesborough.

“Matt is a great choice,” he said. “We have a great police department, and Matt is one of those people that makes it great.”

The award came as a surprise for Rice.

“There are a lot of people in this town that deserve to be recognized,” he said. “There are a lot of other people out there.”

That is what makes the town special, Rice said. Employees work hard every day for the community.

“Everyone who works in this town is a dedicated employee,” Rice added

Rice, who moved from western North Carolina to the area his sophomore year of high school, started in law enforcement in 1998.

“I had a deep-seated desire to help people, and it kind of went from there,” he said.

Rice began as a deputy jailer for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and worked as a patrol officer before leaving the WCSO in 1993. He then accepted a position with the First Judicial Drug Task Force, working there until 1998.

His career continued at the Unicoi County Police Department as a criminal investigator where he also did some drug work.

“There are not a lot of areas in law enforcement that I haven’t been involved in,” Rice said.

In 2004, he became the major for the Jonesborough Police Department. He oversees operations and has four patrol sergeants who report to him.

He also handles criminal investigations and helps plan and implement special events logistics throughout the year for the town.

“I love the job,” Rice said. “I love working for the Town of Jonesborough. I love the community and the people here. There are some good people in this community.”

The team atmosphere and small-department feel is something he enjoys about working for the Jonesborough Police Department.

With the department consisting of only 17 sworn officers, “everyone has to help out in various positions,” Rice said.

With any job there is both good and bad, he added.

The good comes, Rice said, when he has the ability to help people from time to time, to have “that one chance that you get to have a positive effect on someone.”

Such an opportunity came earlier this year when Rice had a chance to save a man’s life.

A dispatched call went out while Rice was in the vicinity. Although he did not know if police officers were nearby, he grabbed an automated external defibrillator and went to the location for the “cardiac arrest, man down” call.

Rice said when he arrived at the location, the gentleman did not have a pulse or respiration.

“I hooked him up and began CPR on him,” he said.

Two other patrol officers arrived and helped Rice administer CPR.

Rice said they had a good outcome that day, which is one of the perks of the job.

The lifetime accomplishments and personal satisfactions are what Rice takes away from the job on a daily basis.

Sometimes it’s as simple as changing a flat tire at 2 a.m. for someone, or putting a little bit of gas in a car that gives him that satisfaction.

Over the years, “the connection with people,” Rice said, is what makes the job so rewarding.