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Story published: 07-09-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Sheriff’s office proposes plan to add SROs at schools

By Karen Sells
Assistant Editor

A proposed plan for School Resource Officers offers a compromise that, if approved, would be more cost-efficient and provide a better means to fill the spots with the best candidates than the original request.

Rather than hiring and equipping 10 SROs for the first year at a cost of more than $1 million, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office has designed a plan to hire three officers during each of the next three years.

The proposal, which will be considered during the July 9 meeting of the Public Safety Committee, requests $186,000 from the General Fund budget during the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Much of the savings in the first year of the SRO program expansion will come from the WCSO’s providing the vehicles and the firearms for the new officers.

“Without the sheriff’s absorbing the cost of the cars in the first year, I don’t know that we would be able to do it,” Commission Chair Greg Matherly said.

Three vehicles will be passed down from those retired from the patrol fleet this year, and the WCSO will allocate $3,000 from the Drug Fund to purchase guns.

Phasing in the hiring, with dates scheduled for October, January and March, also means savings in salaries and benefits.

A tight budget was not the only reason for scaling back the expansion.

According to Detention Center Chief Operating Officer Leighta Laitinen, the thought of hiring 10 SROs at one time was daunting. “This is one of the toughest spots we fill, and I hope we have some experienced officers apply because that’s what we need.”

Sheriff Ed Graybeal agreed the federal and state statutes that must be met regarding officers who serve in schools can lead to a longer hiring and training process to ensure the best match.

Because the positions will be advertised in-house first, hiring 10 at one time could make it very difficult for departments that potentially could see a loss of manpower should several employees express interest.

Currently, two of the six SROs are assigned full-time to each high school. The remaining four each rotate among three county schools. The addition of three new SROs could cut the number of schools to two per officer.

“This would be a huge help,” Laitinen said, referring to the additional time officers would be able to spend at each school.

Graybeal said he has spoken with Director of School Ron Dykes, who reportedly is in favor of the plan.

According to Matherly, questions regarding a plan for SROs have been at the top of the list of items commissioners have called him about since school has been out, and the cooperation of all parties is needed.

“If the budget is passed in August, I think October is a very realistic date to have the first SRO hired,” he said. “I commend the sheriff for implementing the program in stages. He recognized it would have been burdensome to train all of them in one year, but we have to start somewhere.”

Laitinen referred to the WCSO’s absorbing the cost of the vehicles and guns as a one-time deal for the initial year and not something they would be able to provide on an ongoing basis.

The addition of three new SROs will require a second supervisor, according to Laitinen. Salary, benefits, training and equipment for the second supervisor is included in the budget at more than $80,000.

While the results of the school safety assessments will not be completed for a couple more weeks, Graybeal felt confident moving forward with a plan for the SROs. “No matter what comes out of the assessments, it’s not going to change the need for SROs,” he said.

Matherly said he and Mayor Dan Eldridge also are in agreement with hiring more SROs. “It’s a compromise all the way around,” Matherly said.

Additional safety devices such as locks, doors and fences will be considered with the results of the assessments. “The Safety Committee will determine the needs and request the funds,” Matherly said, though he was unsure if those expenses would be included in the current fiscal year.

The proposed plan also will be presented when the Budget Committee reconvenes on July 16 to discuss the 2013-14 budget.