Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 12, 2013

Resource officers scarce

School security mandate would put financial burden on state education system

By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — Local school superintendents say they are concerned about how they would fund mandated school resource officers if West Virginia lawmakers decide to require  these officers in all public schools. And they say a shortage of officers statewide could be magnified by the mandate.

According to the Associated Press, requiring school prevention officers in all state schools is one idea legislators will be looking at as part of efforts to increase school security during the upcoming legislative session.

Mercer County Schools Superintendent Dr. Deborah Akers said a prevention resource officer is defined an active-duty law enforcement officer who has received certification from the state. However, Akers said Mercer County Schools is one system that contracts with outside agencies for security guards. Akers said these security guards are often not active-duty law enforcement officers or certified in the same manner as prevention resource officers.

“For us, we define prevention resource officers as only trained police officers, not security guards,” Akers said. “We do have security guards in all of our high schools, vocational schools and middle schools. We have some at the elementary school level, but they are mainly only there for traffic duty. All of these guards are contracted through an outside agency and are not Mercer County Schools employees. There are certain requirements we have in the contract they must meet, like passing a background check and having certain levels of training.”

A recent report through the West Virginia Division of Justice and Community Officers found there are only 64 prevention resource officers in West Virginia schools and only 32 of the state’s 55 counties have at least one officer in one school. McDowell and Monroe counties have officers funded through a state grant, but there are no certified officers stationed at any of the 27 schools in Mercer County.

Akers said there is a higher priority for full-time security guards at high schools and middle schools as these facilities have more students.

“The security officers we have perform functions such as patrolling hallways and entrances to keep students in class,” Akers said. “The higher up students are in school, the more freedom they have. Older students have much more freedom to roam about than elementary school students. Most elementary school students go everywhere with their class and teacher.”

Akers said Mercer County Schools have received grants to fund state certified resource officers in the past but were told no officers could be spared or were available at the time.

“I think certainly funding this mandate would be a challenge,” she said. “We have had issues in the past where we applied and received a grant for an officer only to be told the state police academy was too backed up and local agencies couldn’t spare an officer for us. It was difficult even when we had grant money to find someone. There is such a need for officers in this state. I hope if a law is passed requiring resource officers they will be able to provide us with more officers.”

McDowell County School Superintendent Nelson Spencer said there is a certified prevention resource officer and active-duty parole officers stationed at the River View High School and the Mount View school complex, but not at any other of the eight county schools.

“We have a resource officer and two patrol officers at River View and Mount View,” he said. “There is more of a need on the high school level and typically the funding that is available for these officers is geared toward middle and high schools rather than elementary schools. You need these officers more for behavior issues and issues with students already within the school rather than people coming into the school. You may only have 250 students at an elementary school while a high school could have 1,200.”

Spencer said school systems and law enforcement agencies cannot currently afford to place more resource officers.

“It would be a comfort, as long as it is funded,” he said. “If this is another unfunded mandate, I don’t think we can afford it. It would be quite a bit of money for us. We would have to fund officers for eight schools. I think it would also create a shortage of law enforcement officers. If the McDowell County Sheriff’s Department had to give up eight officers tomorrow that would seriously deplete their force. They are in the same boat with us having to fund more positions and officers.”

Akers said she can foresee resource officers becoming a requirement for all state schools in the future.

“We do have security measures in place, and there certainly is more attention focused on school security lately,” she said. “I foresee there being a lot more talk about school security in both the state Legislature and on the federal level. Our priority is just keeping our students safe.”

Spencer said there is a definite push to increase school security.

“With what has happened across the nation, everyone is very sensitive and wants to make schools safe,” he said. “We want to be friendly, but it is getting harder and harder for schools to have that open-door policy in light of recent events.”

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com