Security task force recommends two school resource officers

Published 11:42 pm Thursday, November 7, 2013

School receives grant to partially fund officer

Polk County Middle School and the county’s four elementary schools could soon see more police presence following recommendations from a school security task force.
The school security task force was formed in Polk County after the December 2012 school shooting in Connecticut.
The Polk County Board of Commissioners met Monday, Nov. 4, and heard the recommendations, which include the addition of two officers; one for Polk County Middle School and another floating officer at elementary schools.
Polk County Schools Superintendent Bill Miller said the school system has applied for and heard word it was approved for a $28,000 school resource officer grant. The $28,000 is the maximum a county of Polk’s size can receive through the new program, Miller said.
The task force included Polk County Sheriff Donald Hill, Miller, Interim Polk County Manager Marche Pittman, Columbus Police Chief Chris Beddingfield, Saluda Police Chief James Cantrell, Tryon Police Chief Jeff Arrowood and N.C. State Trooper Darryl Bailey. The task force was created in January with meetings facilitated by Isothermal Planning and Development Director Jim Edwards.
Edwards presented the recommendations to commissioners on Monday saying the whole process was well conducted by the people appointed to the task force.
“It really was a cooperative effort between law enforcement and the school system,” Edwards said. “The task force really took the time to visit every school.”
The task force spoke to mental health and social service officials and determined there are gaps in those services, Edwards said. One of the recommendations is for the county to form a mental health task force to address some of the gaps in services within the schools.
Other recommendations include for local officers to continue to drop by all schools on an unpredictable schedule as is currently done, to continue installing panic buttons, which is state mandated, to install a common key system within schools, which will be a phased project because of high costs, for emergency management to be responsible for scheduling desk top exercises for senior staff and determining alternate locations to move students in case of an emergency and to install cameras at primary access points in all elementary schools. The county communications department will monitor the school video cameras, according to the recommendations.
Commissioner Tom Pack asked Miller if the school would continue to receive grant money after the initial year of funding. Miller said it is his understanding that the money will be received each year as long as funding is available.
Pack thanked the task force and recommended that Pittman put together numbers on what the costs are going to be for some of the recommended items as well as work with Miller on funding a second school resource officer. The grant is only to fund officers for middle and elementary schools. Polk County High School currently has a contracted officer.
Commissioners also discussed whether the officers would be full-time, since school is not in session during the summer. Commissioners came to the consensus that they see the positions as full time, with the sheriff’s office finding other duties when school is out.
Miller said he thinks it’s wonderful what the sheriff’s office is doing with drop-ins at schools. He said he gets a tremendous amount of comments from parents and school staff and he knows that has already made a difference. As part of the new officers initiative, the school system has agreed to help pay for part of the officers’ training.
Commissioners decided to continue the discussion in December following Pittman compiling costs on the recommendations.

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