County Remains Uncertain How To Initiate School Safety Officers

SNOW HILL — County officials this week agreed to keep funding in the proposed fiscal year 2014 budget for school safety, but it remains uncertain just what the finished product will look like.

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. Out of those meetings came three basic recommendations, including a plan to hire 13 new full-time Worcester County sheriff’s deputies, essentially one for each of the county’s 13 public schools.

The proposal comes with an estimated price tag of $1.6 million in the first year alone and at least $1 million in each year thereafter. A second proposal would include hiring 13 part-time sheriff’s deputies to man the county’s public schools throughout the school day and that proposal would cost an estimated $604,000.

The third proposal would include using municipal police officers from the three towns in the county in which public schools are located along with two new full-time sheriff’s deputies to cover schools in the county at-large including, for example, Ocean City Elementary and the Worcester County Technical High School.

Under that plan, the officers would only man the schools during arrival and dismissal times and the schools would be on lockdown during regular school hours. That proposal would be the least expensive of the three on the table and would cost an estimated $350,000.

During budget deliberations on Tuesday, the County Commissioners weighed each of the proposals, although they did not reach a final decision. After considerable debate, the commissioners decided to leave in the budget the $604,000 for the second option for the time being, although that is not an indication that plan is the favored one.

County Administrator Gerry Mason said he had identified a grant that would provide 75 percent of the cost of hiring and outfitting new sheriff’s deputies, but that the funding would only apply to the hiring of full-time deputies. According to Mason, the deadline for applying for the grant is set for May 22, however.

Regardless of the final plan chosen, the commissioners said funding should be included to improve the lock-down capabilities of the schools.

“The biggest concern I’ve heard is about the lack of protection from inside,” said Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw. “The kids I’ve talked to are more concerned about the threat coming from the inside, not the outside.”

After considerable debate, the commissioners decided to hold the $604,000 already listed in the budget and adjust the figure when the final plan is decided upon.

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