published Monday, March 11th, 2013

Not all school systems have resource officers, but most are eyeing them after Sandy Hook

SRO Gina Lockhart walks through the cafeteria during lunch Thursday at Sequatchie County Middle School.
SRO Gina Lockhart walks through the cafeteria during lunch Thursday at Sequatchie County Middle School.
Photo by Angela Lewis.
SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS

School systems across the region have varying numbers of resource officers. Below, systems are listed with information on how many officers have been added or removed in the past year, who funds their salaries and the ratio of resource officers to schools.

System SRO status past year Funding source #SROs/schools

Bradley up 1* County/S.O./Schools 16/16

Bledsoe no change S.O./Schools 2/5

Catoosa no change S.O./Schools 7/17

Cleveland no change* City/School 8/9

Cherokee (N.C.) no change* Schools 4/14

Coffee same County 2/9

Cumberland no change* Police 2/12

Dade up 1 no source noted 2/4

Dalton no change Police/Schools 3/9

Dayton no change City 1/1

DeKalb (AL) no change* S.O./Schools 6/13

Fannin no change* county/S.O. 2/5

Fort Payne no change* City 2/4

Franklin up 8 S.O./Schools* 12/12

Grundy up 5 S.O./Schools 7/7

Jackson (AL) N/A N/A 0/18

Hamilton no change S.O./Schools 18/78

Loudon up 1* S.O./Schools 5/9

Marion N/A* N/A 0/10

McMinn no change Schools 3/10

Meigs no change Grants/S.O./Schools 4/4

Monroe no change No source noted 6/13

Pickens no change No source noted 4/7

Polk (TN) no change* Police/Schools 2/6

Roane no change S.O./Schools 6/17

Sequatchie up 1 S.O./Schools 3/3

Walker no change S.O./Police/Schools2/14

Whitfield no change Schools 5/24

  • The Franklin County’s Sheriff’s Office is expected to add full funding for SRO salaries to its 2013-14 budget.

The Hamilton County Schools’ fund most system resource officers through the sheriff’s department. Chattanooga police and other municipalities also contribute officers.

* Additions are being studied for future.

Sources: Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina school system officials and records

  • photo
    SRO Eric Young answers a student's questions about his radio Thursday at Griffith Elementary in Sequatchie County.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
    enlarge photo

The schools' names rise from memory like tombstones, tragic reminders of the mass violence, lost innocence and senseless pain that gave them their horrible distinction.

Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

Red Lake Senior High School in Red Lake, Minn.

West Nickel Mines Amish School in Nickel Mines, Pa.

Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio.

And, only three months ago, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

If the schools' names don't all ring a funeral bell, the collective death toll marks them.

In just those five shooting incidents, 62 people, mostly students and teachers, lost their lives.

School officials across the tri-state area, keenly aware of the potential for violence, have decided that the best preventive measure is, in most cases, to place armed law enforcement officers in their hallways.

Of the region's more than two dozen school systems, many have resource officers at least in their high schools. Some systems have them in middle schools, and a few have officers assigned to elementary schools or are considering it in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook attack.

Some of the most rural systems can't afford any officers, and they're trying other methods to maintain a standard of safety.

SOUTHEAST TENNESSEE

Of local systems adding resource officers, Franklin County is adding the most.

Franklin County, Tenn., taxpayers will pony up $220,000 a year to install eight new resource officers in schools, with the costs split between the school system and the sheriff's office for the first year. Plans are for the sheriff's budget to foot the bill thereafter, officials said.

"The community understands the value of having SROs in our schools," Franklin County Director of Schools Rebecca Sharber said in an email. "The only debate was over the way to have the funding to provide them."

One of the largest systems in Southeast Tennessee, Bradley County, has staffed all 16 of its schools with resource officers, added one since December and is considering a few more, director of safety and security Johnny Mull said.

Officials hope to add an officer at each high school and another to act as a "floater," Mull said.

The region's largest system, Hamilton County, has 16 resource officers, two supervisors from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office and two resource officers from the Chattanooga Police Department, for a total of 20. Nearly 60 schools in the county go without a full-time law enforcement presence.

Those numbers actually are down from years past. Sheriff Jim Hammond last year cut officers from several schools. County commissioners have approved and funded positions for 25 officers, but Hammond has said the recession forced him to allocate some of those resources to the streets.

Hammond could not be reached for comment last week.

Officials in Grundy and Sequatchie counties responded to the recent gun violence with added officers.

Officials in Sequatchie County last month approved adding a resource officer at Griffith Elementary School, one of the county's three schools, making three SROs for the system.

Grundy County Sheriff Brent Myers in the last three months added five resource officers to the two already working in the school system, putting one officer at each of the county's seven schools, Chief Deputy Joe Greenwell said.

Marion County Schools never has had a resource officer for any of its 10 schools, officials said.

"We're looking to put an SRO in each section [of the county]," said Johnny Grimes, 9-12 curriculum director. "All this month we have town hall meetings [on the subject] set up throughout the county."

NORTHEAST ALABAMA

In Alabama, schools officials not only are reacting to the Sandy Hook tragedy, but they're reeling from the bizarre kidnapping-turned-standoff in January.

Jimmy Lee Dykes, 65, boarded a Dale County school bus, shot the driver dead and kidnapped a 5-year-old boy, holding him hostage in an underground bunker for more than 144 hours. The standoff ended when law enforcement entered the bunker and shot Dykes to death.

Just two weeks ago, a Fort Payne High School resource officer was the point of contact that landed 23-year-old Pablo Pedro Gomez behind bars for allegedly engaging in "illegal sexual activity" with underage girls, according to newspaper archives.

Fort Payne City Schools Superintendent Jim Cunningham said resource officers are crucial to security, and officials are looking at adding a couple more to man all four city schools.

"The SROs are recognized by parents as well as students as the go-to person when help is needed," Cunningham said.

There are now seven resource officers among the 13 schools in the DeKalb County system, but officials are studying ways to add more, federal programs director Jason Mayfield said.

Mayfield said the system recently participated in a "safety summit" that officials hope will lead to boosting the number of officers to 13, one for each school.

Large, rural Jackson County, Ala., has no resource officers in its 18 schools, and hopes of gaining any are dim.

Schools Superintendent Kenneth Harding said the lightly populated, 1,000-square-mile-plus county, with just over 50,000 residents, generates too little revenue to pay for resource officers.

"We had them for four years, and we just couldn't afford it," Harding said of efforts years ago.

In lieu of resource officers, Jackson officials are planning security improvements at school entrances, Harding said.

"There's no value you can put on protecting folks, but you've still got to be able to afford to retain it," he said.

NORTHWEST GEORGIA

Catoosa County Public Schools has seven resource officers in its secondary schools, three in middle schools, three in high schools and one in the Performance Learning Center, spokeswoman Marissa Brower said.

"We partner with the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office to pay half of the salary for the resource officers," Brower said.

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson placed that county's first school resource officer at Ridgeland High School when he was elected in 1997.

"I'd heard during the campaign that the community wanted that," Wilson said.

Dade Middle School in Trenton, Ga., used to share a school resource officer with Dade County High School. But Dade County Schools got a second officer this year, and she spends most of her time at the middle school.

"It's important to have her presence there for the students," middle school Principal Karen De Marche said. "She helps us whenever we have a difficult situation to handle."

Staff writers Lindsay Burkholder, Kevin Hardy, Tim Omarzu and Yolanda Putman contributed to this story.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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