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April 24, 2014

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Safer Schools, Hawkins County plans to arm all 19 schools with resource officers

Published: 4:49 PM, 01/11/2013 Last updated: 5:00 PM, 01/11/2013

Source: The Rogersville Review

ROGERSVILLE - In the wake of last month's Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, the Hawkins County Board of Education and the Hawkins County Commission's Education Committee are making plans to step-up security in each of the county's schools.

    Establishing School Resource Officers (SROs) at each of the county's 19 schools was much debated at Thursday's Hawkins County School Board Meeting.  According to Hawkins County Sheriff Ronnie Lawson, the county would be required to hire 15 new SROs at an estimated cost of $725,000 per year. The estimated sum includes officers' salaries, insurance, training, and outfitting (does not include squad cars, as the Hawkins County Sheriff's Department is already equipped with enough cars to cover each officer).

    The 15 new hires would consist of 14 officers to accompany the 5 SROs already established in system and one SRO supervisor.  Each officer would not only be present at his or her designated school during normal school hours, but also at ballgames and major school events. The Hawkins County Sheriff's office already employs one full-time SRO officer, each, at Clinch School, Volunteer High, Cherokee High, and two officers who split time between Bulls Gap School and Rogersville Middle and Church Hill and Surgoinsville Middle schools.

    According to Sheriff Lawson, once hired, officers must be trained for four months; not including the time spent getting acquainted to their designated school buildings, faculty, and students before becoming SRO officers. 

"I don't want the public to think that, as soon as this is approved, there will a School Resource Officer in every school in Hawkins County because it will be contingent upon the availability and finding the right person to be on board and also the proper training," said Charlotte Britton, Director of Hawkins County Schools.

    "The standard for a School Resource Officer requires (the officer to have obtained) two years of experience in law enforcement before going into the schools," said Chief Deputy Tony Allen. "The problem that you run into is it's hard to find officers used to working on the road willing to go into a school as a resource officer. "

    "You can't just pull an officer in off the street," said Allen. "They have to learn the paperwork, the schools, learn the staffing, the court just can't pull them in. It's putting the kids in danger, the staff in danger, and the officers in danger. Just like training a schoolteacher, you can't throw them into the classroom and say 'Do your job'. They have to be trained; they have to go to school- just the same as a police officer."

    Allen also explained that the school's current SROs diffuse potentially dangerous situations that most people do not realize because they are trained to investigate students' reports. Allen also noted that SROs are trained to confer with students and parents.

    The board unanimously voted to allocate $300,000 from the school system's undesignated fund balance for the 2012-2013 school year to get the SRO project going. The funding, however, is dependent on the Hawkins County Commission's vote to cover the estimated sum of  $725,000 to sustain the additional SRO officers each school year.  In essence, the school system agreed to fund the program, entirely, until July (when the county commission sets the budget for the next fiscal year) if the commission votes to fund the project.

    Hawkins County Director of Schools, Charlotte Britton, released the following statement:

    As I have stated many times, the safety and security of our students is our number one priority.  The addition of 15 School Resource Officers would be welcomed if money is made available by the Hawkins County Commissioners to fully fund the officers in the upcoming school year and thereafter.  This money would be in addition to the requested General School Budget funds and Transportation Budget Funds.  Hawkins County Schools have taken many pro-active steps for the safety and security of our students.

    The Hawkins County Commission will discuss the project at the next commission meeting on Monday, January 28. Commissioner Virgil Mallett said that the issue would most likely be placed before the commission's Budget Committee when they prepare the 2013-2014 county budget in the spring. According to Mallett, the estimated $725,000 budget equates to a 10-cent increase to the Hawkins County property tax.

    The process of budgeting county funds and the time required to hire and train experienced officers suggests that furnishing all 19 of Hawkins County's Schools with armed officers is delayed for the foreseeable future.

    "This is not something you can do yesterday. It takes time," said Lawson. "Officers and faculty education saves lives. I do see a great need for it. I'm willing to do whatever the school board and county commission approve."

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