ROCK FALLS – Matthew Marcum feels safe knowing a Rock Falls police officer stops by St. Andrew Grade School from time to time.
"A lot of those things have been happening, so it's nice to know they are here," said Matthew, 9, a third-grader.
The Rock Falls Police Department recently implemented a "school detail" program in response to recent school violence and concerns about school safety and security.
Rock Falls officers – from patrolmen to sergeants, even the chief – make random daytime visits to all eight schools in the department's service area.
"Quite frankly, no local police department has the financial resources to put a cop in every school, every day," Cmdr. Tammy Nelson said. "We have eight schools that would take eight police officers off the street. This program puts cops back in the schools regularly without having to take them off the street."
The officers have used the visits to familiarize themselves with the schools, inside and out, top to bottom. For many officers, the program forced them into buildings they had never before been inside.
"It's definitely nice to know they know how our school works, so if something were to happen, they would know how to help us," said Sarah Davis, 13, an eighth-grader at St. Andrew.
The officers also have used the visits to get to know the staff and teachers and to establish a positive presence among students.
"It's not as scary to think of or see police people," Davis added.
School administrators say the program already has helped break down the barriers between schools and police and foster a more vibrant sense of community.
"It's good for relations between us," said Rock Falls Elementary Superintendent Dan Arickx. "It's good to have the kids realize that these are everyday people, that they can talk to them, but that they are here to protect them, too."
St. Andrew Principal William Lemmer called the program “fantastic.”
"Anytime we can have cooperation between local law enforcement and schools, it's a benefit," he said.
School administrators mostly are glad to have an extra set of eyes, ears and hands in their buildings.
The program, in a way, replaces the school resource officer programs, for which funding dried up several years ago, administrators said.
Rock Falls High School Principal Ron McCord said he would like to have that program again.
“I'd love to have a police officer in our building every day," he said. “In my opinion, they can't be here enough. Anything is better than nothing, though."
The new program is better, too, because it means officers are in every school, elementary to high school, public and private, Nelson added.
The Rock Falls Police Department also conducts regular lockdown drills with the local schools. Officers also go through annual active shooting training.