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New donation fund to help families in need

A discussion about a new donation fund for holiday gifts to be given to children, led by the Harrison County Sheriff’s Dept., included a positive review of the county’s school resource officers during Monday morning’s Harrison County Board of Commissioners’ meeting.

In 2018, county officials and the three superintendents worked out an agreement for the sheriff’s department to place school resource officers, also known as SROs, into each school district. The county covers the expenses upfront, and the three school corporations — Lanesville, North Harrison and South Harrison — pay back the county for approximately 70% of the total bill.

“We have great school resource officers,” said Steve Coleman, chief at the sheriff’s department. “It’s not about a badge and a gun and keeping the peace.”

Commissioner Jim Heitkemper said providing leadership at an early age can help law enforcement when these students become adults in the community. He added he has the opportunity to see an SRO on-duty every school day.

“I say that was the best investment we ever did was put school resource officers out there,” Heitkemper said.

The additional SROs put law enforcement in every school district for the first time. South Harrison and North Harrison schools had law enforcement in their schools before, but Lanesville had not until 2018.

“This county is very fortunate for it to be how it is,” Coleman said.

The SROs in the county will play a new role in helping identify children from low-income families who might not have gifts to open on Christmas morning. The commissioners were supportive of Coleman’s request to start the Caring Cops Program.

“We’re just here to ask to be able to take money,” Coleman said.

Through the years, programs, such as Shop with a Cop, have connected law enforcement with families who may need financial assistance for gifts.

“There are children being left behind in this county,” Coleman said.

Caring Cops Program would take donations and host fundraisers to help more children in need. Coleman’s ultimate goal is to have enough donations to help every family in the county that would need it at some point.

A couple of churches are already willing to support the new initiative, according to the chief, and he plans to discuss the program with Boys & Girls Club of Harrison-Crawford Counties, the YMCA of Harrison County, Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) group and any other entity that can help identify children who should be in the program.

“The school resource officers interact with the children daily,” Coleman said, “and these officers have the ability to identify potential children in need.”

Employees with the sheriff’s office would donate their time to the program and would not be on-duty to help with fundraisers.

Coleman has already discussed the plan with the Indiana State Board of Accounts to learn the proper steps to take when donations are made.

“I really thank you for doing this, and I think it’s a really good idea,” Commissioner Charlie Crawford told Coleman.

An ordinance establishing the fund could be approved during an upcoming meeting.

In the final minutes of the meeting, the commissioners approved approaching the Harrison County Council for $25,000 to be used in a contract with Jacobi, Toombs and Lanz, where former Harrison County engineer Kevin Russel now works.

The commissioners had signed the contract, but Councilman Kyle Nix said the commissioners couldn’t enter into that contract without the council approving the funding.

Commissioner Kenny Saulman said the $25,000 would be used as needed when the county requests Russel’s help with ongoing projects or helping a new county engineer when one is hired.

The Harrison County Board of Commissioners’ next meeting will be Tuesday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. at the Government Center in Corydon (moved from the third Monday because of Presidents Day).