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By Janelle Rucker
The Roanoke Times

ROANOKE, Va. - Being that many cases of drug and alcohol abuse begin in middle school, Terri Robertson is hoping that additional police presence in Franklin County schools will be a proactive solution.
"One of our goals is to shut that down before they get to high school," said the Benjamin Franklin Middle School principal.
To assist, two new faces will roam the halls of the county high school and middle school this year, thanks to grants allowing the Rocky Mount Police Department to provide two school resource officers to the school system.
The two grants, a four-year commitment from the state Department of Criminal Justice Services, will provide $30,000 a year for each officer. The town will provide about $19,000 in matching funds to make up the $49,477 in salary and benefits for each officer.
No additional officers will be hired for the positions. Instead, Rocky Mount Police Chief Erik Mollin has opened them up to existing personnel.
After the officers are chosen -- the deadline for applicants is this week -- they will receive school resource officer training and begin when school starts, Mollin said.
The principals for both schools have identified a problem with prescription drug abuse, and Franklin County High School Principal Debora Decker also added an increase in gang activity in the county as a concern.
Violence, gangs and drug use aren't problems special to Franklin County, Mollin said, but issues school systems are facing around the country.
The addition of another officer need not send out the wrong message, Robertson said.
"Our school is safe," she said. "This is in no way an indication that we feel our school is not safe. The benefit is in being proactive rather than reactive."
Officers will be expected to interact with students on a daily basis, not simply concerning criminal-behavior issues, Mollin said.
The department is looking into different program options including the Gang Resistance Education and Training program and reinstating the Law Enforcement Exploring program, sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America.
In a letter to town council, county Commonwealth's Attorney Cliff Hapgood discussed the importance of exposing juveniles to law enforcement.
"In my 31 years as prosecutor, I believe that law enforcement resources are generally misaligned," he said. "They need to be shifted to young juveniles in the middle school age range. Early detection and intervention gives the best hope of keeping a child out of crime."
In previous years, a Rocky Mount officer was assigned to make stops at the high school as a part of his regular duties but rarely had time to visit the middle school, Mollins said.
That officer was funded through a school liaison grant that expired a few years ago, he said.

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