BERLIN — As the county continues to move forward with fiscal year 2014 budget deliberations, Worcester County Sheriff Reggie Mason this week made an impassioned plea for funding for an ambitious school safety initiative including an armed officer in each of the school.
In the wake of the school shooting tragedy in Connecticut last December, local law enforcement and the Worcester County Board of Education formed a school security committee that produced several recommendations for safety improvements to help ensure a similar incident does not occur here. Among the initiatives proposed is the placement of a trained, armed School Resource Officer (SRO), or active shooter, at each of the county’s 13 public schools. The total package comes with a price tag in the range of $600,000 to $1.6 million, with the latter including start-up costs for the first year including vehicles for the SROs.
This week, Mason made a pitch for the entire package as the county moves forward in budget talks, pointing out the importance, now more than ever, for tighter security at the county’s schools.
“I have nothing but praise for all law enforcement agencies in this county,” he said. “We put our resources together to help make our schools as safe as possible. However, we all feel that we could do a better job of protecting our schools.”
Mason said he has worked closely with Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson on the need for part-time armed sheriff’s deputies at the county’s schools.
“Dr. Wilson and I feel there is a need for a school security deputy sheriff presence at all of our 13 schools,” the letter reads. “At a cost of $600,000, we can place a part-time deputy sheriff in each school. They will be trained as active shooters to deal with an immediate threat and quickly end it. It takes time to assemble SWAT team members, and in the meantime, irreparable damage can occur in seconds, just as parents, teachers and community members are aware in Newtown, Virginia Tech and Columbine, just to name a few.”
Mason said the active shooter trainees will also train all local law enforcement officers in the active shooter program so they will know their assignment when responding to an emergency. The sheriff said spending at least the $600,000 on the active shooter program would be money well spent.
“As with anything, this is not 100 percent safe proof, however, if we don’t try, we’ll be putting out zero percent effort,” he said. “I feel our children deserve the best protection we can offer. I am genuinely concerned for our children.”
Meanwhile, the Lower Shore’s delegation in Annapolis on Wednesday addressed the Ocean City Economic Development Committee (EDC) on a wide variety of issues debated during the General Assembly session, including school safety and gun control.
“No one in their wildest imagination believed something like that could happen, but it did,” Delegate Norm Conway said. “That triggered a whole bunch of initiatives around the country to make our schools more secure.”
County Commission President Bud Church also spoke during the EDC meeting and said finding the funding for the entire school safety package would likely be difficult.
“The County Commissioners are very concerned about school safety, but we’re not going to be able to afford the $1.6 million that has been proposed,” he said. “It’s not an easy fix. We’re going to do everything we can for school safety, but the one thing we’re not going to do is raise taxes.”