SNOW HILL — After months of revisions, the Worcester County Commissioners have officially adopted a school security plan that will place a deputy in 13 of the 14 county public schools.
“We spend millions of dollars in this county on new schools,” said Sheriff Reggie Mason Tuesday. “What cost are we willing to spend on security protecting students, teachers and school staff? To do it right, my recommendation is to place deputies in all schools.”
Mason’s final plan calls for 11 new part-time deputies and two new full-time deputies as well as the promotion of a current officer to the position of lieutenant to supervise the program. One full-time officer would be stationed at Pocomoke High School, while the other would be farther north at Stephen Decatur High School with the remaining schools covered by part-time deputies that would only serve during the school year.
The only buildings in the school system not directly watched by officers will be Cedar Chapel Special School and the Board of Education facility, both of which are immediately next door to schools that will have deputies.
Partial funding for the program will come from a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant to the tune of $125,000. After the grant is applied towards paying for some of the cost of the two full-time deputies, the total price tag for the first year of the program will be $594,225.
Mason admitted that it was a costly endeavor but re-iterated his belief that no school security plan would be complete without adequate coverage from trained and armed deputies.
“We have discussed many options with all of our commissioners. Cost has been a big factor in many of the changes in school security plans,” he said. “One of my main concerns is having one deputy covering more than one school. I feel this could be a problem.”
For the second and subsequent years, the cost to the county would drop to $486,611.
The topic has already clocked hours of discussion over the last few months, and the commissioners didn’t feel the need to add much more to it this week, instead quickly and unanimously approving the sheriff’s plan. Commissioner Merrill Lockfaw, who had issues with the previous draft of the plan that gave more officers to the north end of the county than the south end, told Mason that this proposal is far better.
“I think that it’s an even playing field for all of the schools,” said Lockfaw.
It was, agreed Mason, and while it may be more expensive than some previous versions, it still came in under the original $600,000 limit requested. The prior plan would have been cheaper but, as Lockfaw feared, would have required more officers for the more open north end of the county.
“At our last meeting, there was concern that our schools on the south end of our county would not have the coverage they need compared to the schools on the north end,” the sheriff said. “This was not done to slight any of our schools. It was done due to the close proximity of the schools in Pocomoke and Snow Hill, only minutes from each other.”
Mason thanked the commissioners for their support and funding as well as for their help in devising the final security plan. The Board of Education also played a part in working with the sheriff’s office to come up with a proposal that all sides felt protected schools while not overloading the budget.
The deputies are expected to be trained over the summer and in place by the time the next school year begins in late-August.