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Considering the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, making schools safer seems to be near or at the top of everyone’s to-do list.
Escambia County currently has three school resource officers, or SROs, covering the schools in East Brewton, Atmore and Flomaton. In addition, the school system’s new security badges, worn by every employee, alerts every law enforcement officer in the area in the event of an emergency.
One of the easiest ways to “harden” schools is to have an officer on duty, roaming the halls as a role model, friend and protector. It also offers comfort for many teachers, faculty, staff and students to have a cop on the grounds and a cop car out front of the school.
School resource officers have already been successful in the county. Recently, a photo of Escambia County Deputy Randall Gulley helping a student tie a necktie before a spelling bee showed the kind of relationship good resource officers have with students. The photo was shared on social media.
Although most agree that more officers mean more protection, there is one problem many school systems face: the cost.
The cost of an SRO isn’t just salary. In Escambia County, the average deputy makes $55,000 per year. But a new SRO officer would need a vehicle, costing another $50,000, along with equipment, which puts the total over six figures.
What about grant money for schools that want to hire a new resource officer? Sheriff Heath Jackson says it’s out there, but it sometimes comes with a catch.
“Very often you’d get enough to cover 25% of the cost, but you’d have to provide the rest of the funds,” said Jackson.
For example, if the sheriff’s office received a grant of $25,000, it would have to come up with about $80,000. If the grant only covers a salary for a limited time, that’s also a problem.
Mo Canady, Executive Director of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), located in Hoover, agrees that footing the bill is often an issue.
“Sometimes the pushback is funding,” Canady said. “We need funding at the state level and the federal level. Are we willing to give up certain things to provide a resource officer?”
Local school boards in Alabama may employ SROs as school security personnel or they may contract with a local police chief or sheriff to employ SROs. Canady said Alabama is “a very SRO-friendly state.”
However, a school resource officer needs to check off several boxes. Jackson said it’s a different kind of police work.
“You have to want to be in that setting, be a people person, and have a lot of patience since you’re dealing with kids,” said Jackson. “Someone who can get along with the staff.”
A good officer needs to be approachable.
“Kids need to know they can come to us and not be afraid,” Jackson said. “We’re here to help. The worst thing to do would be to put someone in that position he doesn’t want.”
Canady, whose organization provides training nationwide, said the duty “is the most unique assignment in law enforcement. SROs are carefully selected and specifically trained. It should be a veteran of at least three years so you know their character. They need to be role models.”
Just this week, Canady took part in the Safe Schools Training Conference by the Alabama Association of School Resource Officers (TAASRO) in Orange Beach. He taught the Advanced SRO Course.
Canady previously served as a resource officer in Hoover. He said a strong bond between a resource officer and students can make a life-saving difference.
“When we build good relationships, we can hopefully stop an act of violence,” said Canady.
NASRO will host the National School Safety Conference in Aurora, Colorado, July 3-8.
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