The Cumberland County Board of Education voted unanimously Thursday to move forward with a School Resource Officer program in its schools, in cooperation with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department.
"As we go forward into budget planning, it is our desire that the director of schools proceed with the SRO program, not an SSO [School Safety Officer] or SPO [School Police Officer] program," said Josh Stone, 4th District representative.
The motion was unanimously approved by the board.
The vote comes following discussion on the future of the program that placed four SROs in county schools, splitting their time between the eight elementary schools in the county. The county had previously asked the school system to explore an SSO program, such as that used in Knox County, instead of the SRO program.
Director of Schools Donald Andrews said he had concerns about an SSO program, that included a lack of expertise in supervising law enforcement and the possible liability of the school system.
Gordon Davis, 5th District representative, said in the safety committee meeting Dec. 16, "SRO is the only way to go. It should be handled through the law enforcement department of the county."
Both Davis and Stone, at that meeting, expressed a desire to see full time SROs in every school, if funding were available. They also noted there had been numerous positive comments shared regarding the SRO program and the officers in the schools.
There is a question of possible savings through an SSO program, in which the school safety officers are hired by and managed by the school system, at a salary lower than that of officers hired by the sheriff's department.
Stone noted the cost of the program covered the salary of a new employee for the sheriff's department, but that the officers coming to the schools were seasoned and experienced officers. The SRO program also calls for the purchase of new vehicles for officers.
"If it came down to having eight officer with no cars or four officers with cars, I'd prefer to have eight officers," he said.
The school system and the Cumberland County Sheriff's Department agreed to fund the first year of the SRO program, with the sheriff's office providing one of the four officers and the school system agreeing to fund the remaining $235,000 of the first-year of the program. Those funds were to allow the sheriff to replace the experienced officers that were being placed in the schools with new officers for patrol.
The officers began work at the first of the school year, but the funds transfer to allow those officers to be replaced has not yet been approved by the Cumberland County Commission.