Sullivan commissioner renews push for SROs for county middle schools

J. H. Osborne • Jan 14, 2007 at 11:42 AM

BLOUNTVILLE - Sullivan County Commissioner Dennis Houser has renewed his effort to get school resource officers (SROs) for county middle schools.

Houser first proposed the move early last year, but was unable to gain enough support from fellow commissioners to get the SROs in place.

Those who dismissed the effort last year stood on two major points of opposition: first, the funding stream used to pay for such officers could leave the county open to sharing some of the money with city school systems; and second, it's not government's place - or sheriff's deputies' place in this case - to keep children in line.

Houser has again met with those arguments on his current proposal for SROs, which is on the Sullivan County Commission's agenda for Tuesday.

It would need 13 "yes" votes from the 24-member group to gain approval.

It was most recently discussed by the commission's Budget Committee last week.

Committee Chairman Eddie Williams said action and attention from teachers and principles is more of an answer than putting police in schools.

"I don't think we can take police officers and change anything," Williams said. "We can't put all this responsibility on the police."

He said the sight of a law enforcement officer, in uniform and with police car, doesn't have the same effect that it used to have on youth.

"It doesn't do what it used to do when I was out running around - I would try to duck or hide," Williams said.

Spending money isn't going to fix the problem, Williams said.

Commissioner Howard Patrick said he's worked as a substitute teacher in county schools, and he's not sure what effect SROs have on preventing student fights or drug activity, because he's seen both take place as soon as the SRO officer is out of sight.

According to Houser's resolution, which seeks four new SROs - one each for the county school system's four main zones:

• SROs are a nationally accepted concept with a goal of reducing violence, deterring drug and alcohol use, and a general reduction in juvenile crime.

• SROs are not just "cops on campus," rather they are positive role models who interact with students in a supportive manner; and they perform varied duties at each school, which are based on the needs of the students and teachers at the school where they are assigned.

• An SRO is a certified law enforcement officer who is permanently assigned to provide coverage to a school.

• The SRO is specifically trained to perform three roles: law enforcement officer; law-related counselor; and law-related education teacher.

• The SRO is not necessarily a DARE officer (although many have received such training), security guard, or officer who has been placed temporarily in a school in response to a crisis situation, but rather acts as a comprehensive resource for his/her school.

Houser's resolution cites the following in support of adding the SROs for the county's middle schools:

• Recent incidents of violence and criminal activity occurring on school premises - not limited to high schools, but on middle school campuses.

• SROs into their middle schools to promote safety and enhance instruction time.

• The presence of an SRO and a law enforcement agency cruiser on a school's premises and the assignment to such a school of an SRO, with the authority to arrest those who violate the law, constitutes a substantial deterrent to violent acts and criminal activity at school.

The resolution calls for funding about $185,000, to be divided as follows: 25 percent from the current budget of the Sullivan County Department of Education; 25 percent from the current budget of the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office; and 50 percent in new funding from the county's unallocated fund balance.

The Sullivan County Commission is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday on the second floor of the historic Sullivan County Courthouse.

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