Polk commissioners to discuss school resource officers

Published 7:09pm Thursday, January 3, 2013

Meeting Monday, Jan. 7 at 7 p.m.

In light of the Connecticut shootings Dec. 14, Polk County officials plan to begin conversations about what can be done to make schools safer.

The Polk County Board of Commissioners will meet Monday, Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Womack building in Columbus and one agenda item is a discussion about school resource officers (SROs).

Commissioner Ray Gasperson placed the discussion on the agenda and said he’s had several parents and former students ask why Polk County does not have SROs and he thinks it’s a question that needs to be discussed. Polk County Schools has unarmed officers at the high school and middle school contracted outside of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

It’s a topic that’s being discussed all over the country as well as in surrounding counties.

Henderson County Schools returned to school this week with sheriff’s officers patrolling all schools. Officers also patrolled Henderson County Schools prior to the holiday break following the Connecticut school shooting.

In South Carolina, Spartanburg County District 6 Schools are adding officers to all schools following the holiday break and Spartanburg County District 3 is also considering the addition.

Anderson County, S.C. parents are scheduled to bring their concerns regarding school to Anderson County Council next week. Anderson County already has SROs at its middle and high schools.

Gasperson said he is interested in Polk County Schools Superintendent Bill Miller and Polk County Sheriff Donald Hill’s input as well as parents and teachers.

“There are discussions going on all over the country and I think we need to be having this discussion locally,” said Gasperson.

Gasperson said he thinks it would be ideal to have SROs in all Polk County Schools but the program could be implemented gradually as well.

Gasperson said the county is currently in good fiscal shape.

“The most important thing we can be spending taxpayer money on is the health and safety of the citizens, particularly our children,” Gasperson said. “If school resource officers can help provide safety for our school-age children there’s no better place we can be spending taxpayer money.”

Gasperson said there are obviously pros and cons for school resource officers with some telling him having an armed officer at school may send the wrong message to the students. But he said there are many positive aspects to having an officer at each school, including the officer building positive relationships with students and implementing different programs, including DARE.

Gasperson also said now would be a great time financially for Polk County considering the sheriff’s office is retiring five vehicles to purchase new ones. The SROs could drive the higher mileage vehicles since they wouldn’t be travelling much and the positions could provide more jobs for officers.

Sheriff Hill has spoken in support of having school resource officers in the schools.

Hill said he thinks there are benefits to having SROs and plans to meet with Supt. Miller, Tryon Police Chief Jeff Arrowood and Saluda Police Chief James Cantrell sometime next week to survey schools and discuss plans for better security. Hill said it will be important to work with Tryon and Saluda since those schools are located within city limits.

Miller said the decision about school security will have to be left up to the sheriff and security professionals on what improvements could be made.

Polk County consists of seven total schools, including the middle school, high school, Polk Central Elementary, Saluda Elementary, Sunny View Elementary, Tryon Elementary and the early college.

Gasperson invites parents to voice their opinions Monday night so commissioners can gauge what the community wants as far as school security.

“If it’s the will of the school, the sheriff’s office and the community, the money can be found,” Gasperson said.

Monday’s agenda item is for discussion only, so no vote is planned. Citizen comments are allowed following each agenda item as well as at the end of the meeting.

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