By Heather Mullinix
A survey of those arrested and jailed in Cumberland County during 2012 found more than 1,700 children were being parented by individuals in jail for drug or alcohol charges.
"We've got the equivalent of two elementary schools being raised by parents with drug and alcohol problems," Cumberland County Sheriff Butch Burgess told the Cumberland County Board of Education at its June 27 meeting.
Burgess has proposed a county-wide school resource officer (SRO) program to place certified officers in each elementary school. The Crossville Police Department provides SROs to Cumberland County High School and Stone Memorial High School, and is seeking a grant to add an SRO at Martin Elementary.
Burgess has prepared budget estimates for adding eight SROs across the county, at a first-year cost of $623,540, but noted that wasn't feasible due to the training needed for new officers.
"To get the caliber I feel comfortable putting into the schools, I don't feel I can come up with that many between now and the end of the school year," Burgess said.
Instead, he proposes four new full time deputies. Those deputies would take over road patrols for more experienced officers, allowing those experienced officers to move into the SRO positions at schools.
That would cost an estimated $311,770.
The eventual goal is to have an officer in every school but in the first year, officers could be assigned to two schools, with officers serving Pine View and Crab Orchard, South Cumberland and Brown, Stone Elementary and Homestead and North Cumberland and Pleasant Hill. If the city is not successful with its grant for an SRO at Martin, Burgess said the officer serving Homestead and Stone could also serve that school.
In addition to SRO certification, Burgess would like to have all SRO officers cross-trained with the Drug Endangered At Risk Children (DEAR) training. That includes training on DEAR investigations, interviews, interrogation, crime scene photography and managing different types of cases involving children. This would add more depth to the service officers can provide in the schools and provide greater communication between the schools and law enforcement regarding students and situations they may be dealing with at home.
Investigator Casey Cox said, "I believe in being pro-active in law enforcement. These children that come out of some of these homes, their home life is a war zone. They are taught to disrespect law enforcement and to be afraid of officers. This gives us a chance to build respect with the child before we have to be reactive.
"We see the same bunch over and over, generation after generation of families. This is how we break that cycle."
The officers could also assist schools with developing educational programs, such as "Stranger Danger," Internet safety, bullying prevention and more.
"You've got some teachers that are excellent teachers, but you can't expect them to be gang experts or drug experts. That's our job," Burgess said.
They could also draw on the resources of the Sheriff's Department to develop a criminal justice class for seventh- and eighth-grade students. That's one of the fastest growing fields for Career and Technical Education programs at the high school level.
Burgess noted the timing of the proposal in terms of presenting it to the Cumberland County Commission was not ideal; however, he said he felt it was important to try and do something this year.
He did not include the cost of the program in his proposed 2013-'14 budget, but told the BOE he believed he could cover one of the officer positions, as well as provide some clerical support through the sheriff's department.
"I think it's too important to just throw it out to the county commission and say 'There, fund it.' All of you that's been through it before know it's not going to happen," Burgess said. "If we can get it started, I think we can make it work...But do it and tell the county, 'We bit the bullet this year. Next year, you take it up from there.'"
The board questioned if the officers would be school employees or Sheriff's Department employees, and if they would be 12-month employees. Burgess said the officers would have to be full-time, 12-month employees to retain the certification. During times when school was not in session, he said the officers would be returned to road duty but remain in the communities of the schools they serve.
Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle questioned where the schools could find the remaining $235,000 to fund the first year of the program.
"The only way the board can afford this program is to ask the county for funding," she said. "To find these funds in the [Basic Education Program] formula, something in the BEP will have to be eliminated."
The BOE will discuss the program further as it continues discussion of its 2013-'14 budget. A special-called meeting on the budget is set for July 8 at 5 p.m. at the Central Office, 398 4th St.