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For school officer, prevention is key

September 07, 2009|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- When Morgan County Sheriff's Department Deputy Kevin Barney began his job three years ago as a prevention resource officer at Berkeley Springs High School, he had to break down the stereotype that the "police just hate everybody," and he was going to "look for the bad kids to put them in jail," he said.

There was a misconception that he was a security resource officer or SRO, Barney said, but he knew if he worked with the kids and focused on prevention, it would work.

Megan Hauser, community educator for the Morgan County Partnership, said the kids seem to trust Barney. "He takes the time with them," she said.

Students stop by his office to talk about bullying issues and some stop in to say hello. Some are reassured by his presence at the school, not so much as a safety issue, but they may have limited contact with people and can count on him to talk, Barney said.

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School expulsions are down, he said, and he's seen a decrease in drugs being brought into the school.

He did not want to come into the school "steel-fisted."

"I will work with you, but don't take my kindness for weakness. We have to maintain order," he said.

As a class facilitator, which he will do more of this year, Barney said he talks about drug abuse or domestic violence in health class, legal issues in history, and in math classes, Barney explains it's not about the size of a person but the proper angle of your arm to use self-defense effectively. 

"It's applying the core classes to everyday life," Barney said. "Working with kids is what I like most, and I try to prepare them for the future."

Barney, 37, got to know Berkeley Springs by spending summers with his grandparents. He grew up in Maryland and New Jersey and has been a police officer for 10 years.

In addition to his PRO duties, Barney also works with alternative education students and coaches the girls volleyball team.

Crystal Curtis, the new Morgan County Schools director of student services, is a former assistant principal at the high school. Barney is a "tremendous benefit" to the school, she said. He was instrumental in setting up the anti-violence, anti-bullying program that will be in all Morgan County schools. Greenwood and Pleasant View Elementary Schools asked to be included this year, Curtis said. She said the high school students are comfortable talking with Barney from personal issues to how to deal with a speeding ticket.

"We are lucky to have him in this position," assistant principal Lance Fox said.

"The biggest problem is so many kids go to him because the kids like him so much," he said. 

He said Barney should have been a teacher. He is a "natural born teacher - he's very good at it."

"He does a great job in the classroom," Curtis said. She said Barney has a great way of talking to the students and "does not shy away from any questions."

Barney helped implement the pre-expulsion program for those students that will benefit from a second chance, he said.

"We need to spend more time on preventative, rather than punitive and rehabilitative," Fox said. 

"This is a team effort to protect the school. It's just another component added to serve the community," Barney said.

"He is a true resource officer to educate kids in all ways," Curtis said.

The federal grant program is available through the U.S. Department of Justice, Barney said, and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin is behind this program with more than 50 PROs in place throughout the state so far.

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