Almost daily the Salt Lake County deputy sheriffs assigned to area high schools confiscate dangerous weapons from students.
Deputies have been working the schools for about 10 years, relieving students of guns, nunchaku (nunchucks), brass knuckles, knives and miscellaneous home-made weapons, said Salt Lake County Sheriff Pete Hayward.A Friday morning incident at Thomas Jefferson Junior High in Kearns demonstrated the need for the officers - a 12-year-old boy took a shot at his vice principal in the school's parking lot after it was discovered he arrived at school that morning with a weapon.
A gun was discharged by accident in November at a Salt Lake intermediate school, slightly injuring a 14-year-old boy.
The number of violent acts officers prevent by watching for and confiscating weapons may never be known, Hayward said, but the proverbial ounce of prevention on the officers' part has surely saved the need for an after-the-fact cure, as was the case in the Friday incident and the one in November.
Sheriff's Assisting Youth or SAY officers in unincorporated areas of the county - and police officers operating similar programs in cities with high schools - are on the lookout for problems generated by the school population and by outsiders who have no business being on school grounds.
Outsiders are whisked away from the school for questioning. Problems generated from within the student population are often worked out in the principal's office or through counseling.
"We work closely with the administrations of these schools," Hayward said. There is a designated plan for responding to trouble, whether it be from the outside or within. First, the school officials call the officer who works in the school and knows many of the students. Second in line is a designated patrol officer assigned to be a backup.
Students are usually acquainted with the plain-clothes officer assigned to their school, Hayward said, and students are the largest single source of referrals to the officers about problems.
The sheriff's department also has a Juvenile Drug and Alcohol, or JADE unit that patrols the schools anonymously looking for suspicious activities.
So far, the schools haven't had to deal with a crazed killer that walks onto a school ground and opens fire, "But you never know when one of these is going to show up," Hayward said.
Area school district superintendents are very complimentary of the law enforcement program.
Raymond Whittenburg, superintendent of the Jordan district, said the SAY officers have had a positive influence in the schools.
Superintendent Loren Burton of Granite District said publicity about the shooting incidents in other states may be affecting Utah youths. "Sometimes the news media puts ideas into kids' heads."
The school officers have other duties as well, Hayward said. They teach classes on law enforcement and train teachers and administrators to respond to problems.