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Stark County sheriff talks security with Richardton school board

RICHARDTON--Stark County Sheriff Terry Oestreich spoke openly with the Richardton-Taylor School Board about the issues of school safety and to hear their concerns at Wednesday night's board meeting.

RICHARDTON-Stark County Sheriff Terry Oestreich spoke openly with the Richardton-Taylor School Board about the issues of school safety and to hear their concerns at Wednesday night's board meeting.

"We just decided at the office to try and meet with all of the school boards, because of all the talk of school safety," Oestreich said. "Not to sell anything, just to let you know that we will be available for any planning, any training or to discuss any ideas that you guys want to do or implement, just because it's such a hot topic right now. Anything you want to call on us for, please."

Oestreich, alongside Sgt. Ron Van Doorne, the school resource officer for Richardton-Taylor High School and other schools in the county, discussed some opportunities for future training, relayed the highlights of a recent training he attended and provided an opportunity to field questions.

School board President Duane Zent didn't hesitate.

"From the county's side, what would it take to put a deputy in every school?" Zent asked.

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Van Doorne, Zent said, "floats" between three different schools, and Oestreich agreed that a single deputy could make a big difference.

"One person makes a big difference (in schools this size)," Oestreich said. "It would take a lot, right now we are two people down ... my intent this budget cycle is to ask for more deputies."

Oestreich said that his department has always managed to keep on budget, but an additional deputy would cost $100,000 for salary and benefits.

"With current staff we do not have the manpower," " Oestreich said. "Last year we did 636 transports - that's two people in a car that it ties up. That's four people a day."

The workload is growing, Oestreich said. He noted that his office is dealing with 3,500 active warrants.

"My goal had been to get that down to 1,500," he acknowledged. "We can get 12 to 18 warrants a day. So to put an officer in every school, I mean, if the schools ask we'll try and do it, but it's going to take a significant outlay for the county."

There is some optimism, however, the sheriff said.

"Our county is sitting in pretty doggone good shape financially compared to other entities, like the city of Dickinson," He said. "But the reason they are in (good shape) is because they are careful."

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Van Doorne said that he has been discussing with Superintendent Brent Bautz about tightening up security around Richardton-Taylor.

"We're gonna get kind of stiff on making sure on getting visitor passes on people coming in here," Van Doorne. "And get a little stiff on making sure there's one way in and one way out of here only. I know it's hard with the construction going on but we have to maintain that one door, one way they can get in. When I walk through the building, I'll find doors that aren't secured from time to time. We're working on that."

He also said that they've been discussing how to sharpen the security in the new building as well. Van Doorne said that, following the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., a majority of his conversations have been about school security.

Oestreich emphasized the importance of having a dedicated school resource officer-the communication between that officer and the school staff, counselors and administration helps them to better know the kids.

"There's a lot of things in school violence that are indicators," Oestreich said. "There's a lot of (benefit) in knowing your kids."

"We get red flags, we talk about, discuss it, make sure we have double eyeballs on," Van Doorne said, noting the kids have accepted his presence much easier than he expected. "They are willing to talk to me, they wave with all their fingers."

Van Doorne said he's able to tell right away if a kid is having an on day or an off day, just by communicating in the hallway between classes.

"That's why the sheriff and I are here today," Van Doorne said. "We just want to try and make people understand that we're there to help in any way we can. There's talk of arming teachers-that's not for me to say, but I do know that the sheriff has offered, if it would come to that in any of our jurisdictions, he would offer our trainers."

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"Understand that that is not just a simple thing," Oestreich added. "Our guys, before we put them out armed, fire between 2,500 and 5,000 rounds. That's a significant outlay, and then continual training."

He did say that there are other options, like stun guns and pepper spray, which they can provide training in. Oestreich recalled a story about a courthouse deputy who would oversee the entrance to the county courthouse. This deputy once told the sheriff that he could always tell when somebody entered through the door what their state of mind was, and that deputy said he'd do his best to try and make the folks who come through laugh, which adjusts their mindset as they come into the courthouse.

"It's the same thing all over," Oestreich said. "If you can intervene ..."

"If you can lighten the mood and change, that's huge," school board member Judy Hoff agreed. "That's anywhere, that's in any business, any school."

Oestreich told the board about a training that will be coming up March 26 in Bowman that is free to attend and would be on school and church safety. He'd be attending and he invited them to attend as well.

Preventing active shooting incidents is critical-Oestreich took a moment to note that following a shooting, trauma can affect entire communities.

"It's a huge concern," Zent said, a sentiment echoed by Oestreich and several others at the table.

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