Sullivan County schools look to sheriff’s office for SROs

Rick Wagner • Aug 19, 2013 at 8:49 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — School system officials to sheriff: We need more school resource officers.

Sullivan County school leaders are calling on Sheriff Wayne Anderson to hire additional school resource officers or other officers to be in county schools.

During a Board of Education work session Thursday afternoon, BOE Chairman Dan Wells said the letter that he and Director of Schools Jubal Yennie wrote on July 22 to Anderson basically asks him to spend some of the $400,000 in new money the County Commission’s Administrative and Budget committees have earmarked for the Sheriff’s Office on SROs, particularly at the middle school level.

In January, after the Dec. 14 killing of 26 people — 20 children and six adults — at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the school board talked about having SROs at every building or shared campus in the system.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Leslie Earhart Friday said that Anderson was out of town but that Chief Deputy Lisa Christian emphasized that money was planned mostly for capital use, including new cruisers for deputies.

“We’ve got officers out there driving cars with over 200,000 miles,” Earhart said in a late Friday morning phone interview. “It (SROs and more officers in the schools) is something that we would love to do.”

She said the sheriff has asked for SRO funding from the County Commission but that “no additional has been approved.”

The school system already has four SROs, one in each of the high schools, and has had since 1997. They can and do go to middle and elementary schools, but some far-flung schools can be a long drive away for any law enforcement officer.

“We had an earlier conversation about using police officers as Community Precinct Officers in order to provide additional support and presence at our middle and elementary schools,” Yennie and Wells wrote in the letter. “We are not sure if this proposal is still in the process, but we encourage and support you in your efforts to secure additional funding from the County Commission to support Community Precinct Officers who can provide a visible presence in our schools.”

Earhart said the Sheriff’s Office is still looking at the precinct officer concept but that it is difficult to move forward until the 2013-14 county budget is formally approved. The fiscal year started July 1.

Earhart said Anderson has urged all patrol deputies and all certified law enforcement officers, including herself and administrative personnel, to go into the schools as often as possible.

“If you can do a school walk-through, you do it,” Earhart said.

The letter, copied to County Mayor Steve Godsey, cites a school security task force meeting in the spring that recommended increased SROs, physical and behavioral threat assessment and improving school culture through education and awareness.

“Our productive working relationship with the Sheriff’s Office ensure that these next steps can be achieved,” Yennie and Wells wrote.

“We will continue to search for funding sources including safety grants to fund the cost of threat assessment and educational programs, but we will need additional SROs to ensure that the programs and assessment are implemented to the fullest extent,” they continued. “We support your efforts to acquire additional funding for SROs through various revenue sources. Please let us know what we can do to assist your proposal, so that we can continue to increase safety in our schools and throughout our community.”

Earhart said no grants to fund SROs have been found but some could emerge later.

School board members have pointed out that the middle school SROs could do double duty on campuses adjacent to or shared between a middle and an elementary school.

Blountville Middle and Elementary, and Holston Middle and Elementary are on the shared campuses and share common areas like cafeterias.

Also, two of the high school SROs already are near or effectively in another school. North Middle is housed in the North High building, and Rock Springs Elementary is behind South High.

In addition, Bluff City Middle and Elementary schools are within view of each other, and other county schools are within a few minutes drive of each other.

Read the letter to Sheriff Anderson here.

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