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County votes to add SROs

Mary Hinds maryhinds@lebanondemocrat.com • Updated Jul 26, 2013 at 9:59 PM

The Wilson County Commission approved a budget amendment Monday to ensure funding of school resource officers for all schools in Wilson County.

Following the recommendation of the budget committee, the commission voted to take $270,000 from the county's fund balance to fund eight additional SROs until the end of the school year.

In turn, Mayor Randall Hutto told the commission he sent a letter to the Wilson County Board of Education asking it to pay half that amount. Wilson County Director of Schools Mike Davis told commissioners he would recommend the school board meet the commission half way and pay for four of the eight SROs.

Commissioner Frank Bush questioned Budget Committee Chair Commissioner Mike Justice about whether the schools were coming up with a comprehensive plan for school safety beyond SROs.

Commissioner Eugene Murray assured Bush the schools were taking stock of security from every angle.

"Mr. Davis and the board are looking at each school," he said, adding the look included considering the advisability of other security measure,s including electronic surveillance. "But I urge all of you to visit the schools in your district and look at them. It is incumbent on us to check our districts. But, yes, those safety measures are being put in place."

Justice cautioned everyone on the school board and the commission about talking too publicly about security measures.

"They must be cautious about how much they disclose and how much they release," he said. "I'd rather the sheriff know things the public doesn't."

Commissioner William Glover said the $270,000 figure could go down, and Hutto reminded the commission he expects the school board would follow Davis' recommendation.

"This figure is fluid," Justice said.

Bush said he agreed extra security is the order, but he thought the amount needed might change after a full study of school security was complete.

"The results of the study will undoubtedly result in a need for additional funds," Bush said, naming electronic surveillance and perimeter security as probable needs. "A lot of money would be involved. This chunk is premature."

Commissioner Wendell Marlowe said all principals were asked to review crisis plans, and he backed the SRO plan.

"Of all the funds they could be spent, we couldn't spend them any better," Marlowe said.

Commissioner Adam Bannach thought the vote a no-brainer.

"I can't believe we're even hesitating on this," he said. "These men and women work with students - they are not mall cops."

Bush then questioned why the school board couldn't foot the entire bill for the additional eight SROs. Justice said part of the reason the vote was coming so quickly was because there is a limited number of spaces available in police academies.

"That's the reason we've pushed this," he said, "or we might have to wait another six to eight months."

Hutto said making sure there is an SRO in every school was on the front burner since the school shootings in Newtown, Conn. in December.

"We asked 'how can we make this happen?'" Hutto said.

He said the most important thing is that it be a joint effort between school systems and governing bodies to keep Wilson County students safe on campus.

With that, all commissioners present, including Bush, voted 24-0 to approve the release of the funds for the additional SROs. Commissioner Jim Bradshaw was absent.

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