COST OF PROTECTION
Officials mull placing deputies in elementary schools
When parents and residents in Newton County heard about the tragic school shooting in Newton, Conn., one of their first reactions was to ask if schools needed to be safer.
One of the most direct forms of protection is law enforcement officers in the schools. A sheriff’s deputy is currently stationed full time in each middle and high school in Newton County, but given that the Connecticut shooting happened in an elementary school, local officials are now exploring whether deputies are needed in every school.
The Newton County School System would have to pay an additional $786,793 per year to place school resource officers –
specially trained sheriff’s deputies – in each of the county’s 13 elementary schools as well as the Newton County Theme School at Ficquett and the Newton College and Career Academy, according to an email from school system business manager Peggy Bullard.
The school system currently pays $743,340 for the 14 school resource officers (SROs) that already work in its middle and high schools. Based on those numbers, each school resource officer costs approximately $53,095.
There appeared to be some confusion as to whether the cost of the SROs was split between the school system and the sheriff’s office, but Dennis Carpenter, deputy superintendent of operations for schools, said the school system pays the entire cost.
Adding a law enforcement presence directly in elementary schools and the other specialty schools in the county would significantly increase costs for a school system that has dealt with budget cuts each of the last few years.
“During my tenure we have not had substantive discussions regarding placing SROs at our elementary schools,” said Mathews in an email sent out to school board members and other officials. “Budget reductions, rather than additions, have been the norm. That said, the addition of SROs at each of our elementary schools may be something to really look at in light of the assault on little children and teachers and principal in Connecticut.”
However, in light of the tragedy, the sheriff’s office is planning to have SROs visit the elementary schools more regularly, especially in the mornings, according to SRO Lt. Charles Ledford.
Deputy Cortney Morrison, who is in charge of school resource officers, said Saturday that SROs are at most a few minutes away from every elementary school in the county. In some cases such as Newton High and Porterdale Elementary schools (which are next door to one another), an SRO is only seconds away.
Morrison said SROs are trained to know what to do in situations such as the tragic mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., adding that the training situations are “very stressful” so that law enforcement knows how to react if something does occur.
“You learn to how to assess things in a split second and how to react in a situation like that,” she said.
Morrison said that SROs are also familiar with who typically comes in and out of the middle and high schools in the county (where there is at least one SRO at all times), and that if a visitor comes into the school and does not check in at the office, they are retrieved by the SRO before they get very far into the school.
Sheriff’s Lt. Charles Ledford, a trained school resource officer, watches students at Cousins Middle School. However, no officers are currently stationed in local elementary schools, which some believe is an issue following the shooting at an elemntary school in Connecticut.