Hamilton County Schools will get an additional eight school resource officers thanks to a million-dollar federal grant program.
Sheriff Jim Hammond announced Friday that his department received a three-year, $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice's Community Oriented Policing Service grant program.
Currently, the sheriff's office oversees 20 school resource officers, a figure that includes two supervisors, two Chattanooga police officers and two school system-funded officers.
Hammond said the expansion of the SRO program will beef up safety at several school buildings in the 42,000-student system.
He said he believes his department's extensive study of the county's 78 schools could be the reason it was awarded the grant this year, after previous unsuccessful attempts.
That effort had SROs going through every school building looking for security deficiencies, Hammond said.
"The safety and security of our children have come to the forefront more here recently because some of the issues happening -- the shootings in schools," the sheriff said, alluding to the December 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 students and staff members dead.
For years, both schools officials and the sheriff have said the school system could use more officers. But funding for the program has been hard to come by and the sheriff has cut SRO coverage to balance other areas of his budget.
Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said the eight officers will help the school system provide protection at campuses that are currently going without.
"Adding eight SROs to our program is a strong signal," Smith said. "I'm very appreciative of that because I think we've had campuses that have been a little bit of a concern for us -- campuses that we felt like because of the size of the school and other factors needed to have that support."
Hammond said the resource officers will be selected from current sheriff's employees and likely won't be in schools until next year. The sheriff said he'll soon meet with school officials to decide which schools will get officers. The three-year grant includes funding for salaries and training.
The Hamilton County Commission will have to commit to funding the fourth year, Hammond said.
Beyond that, the county could choose to continue funding the eight SROs or drop those positions.
Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.