Debate Surfaces Over Request For More School Cops
SNOW HILL - The County Commissioners went back and forth over funding three school resource officers requested in the Sheriff's Department budget during a work session Tuesday.
Worcester County Sheriff Chuck Martin requested three new deputies specifically to patrol and work with the schools on security and safety, an outgrowth of community policing.
Threats do not simply come from disruptive students, he said, but also from parents, teachers and visitors. However, Martin cautioned he was not saying that Worcester County schools have a violence problem.
'I believe we're getting mixed messages here,' said Commissioner Judy Boggs.
During a recent meeting with the Board of Education and staff, both Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes and Board of Education member Sara Thompson told the commissioners that behavior problems in the schools were stable.
'I would hesitate to add law enforcement resource officers to our schools,' she said.
However, Boggs' opinion touched a sensitive nerve with some of her colleagues.
'I disagree with you,' interrupted Commission President Jim Purnell.
However, Boggs would not concede the additional deputies were needed.
'We have not received any documented need from the school board,' Boggs said.
Again Boggs was interrupted, this time by Commissioner Bud Church. 'Want to wait till there's a problem?,' he asked.
However, once again she would not be dissuaded.
'Excuse me,' said Boggs. 'We've heard nothing.'
Purnell said recent events make improving school safety more important then ever.
'It may prevent somebody from getting seriously hurt or even losing their life,' Purnell said. 'Now's the time we step up to the plate and start protecting our schools even more.'
Martin said the request originated with the schools.
'They came to me and asked for school resource officers,' he said.
School officials agreed they have expressed a need for more security help from the sheriff's department.
'We have a history of supporting school resource officers,' replied Andes when asked about the matter during the Wednesday budget session.
Berlin has been providing a school resource officer from the Berlin Police Department, as has Snow Hill, but the grants paying for the officers are evaporating.
'It becomes more competitive and some agencies don't get the dollars,' said Andes.
Andes described the role of the school resource officers as prevention, intervention and education. School resource officers would be a source of intelligence about the schools if an incident occurred, Martin said.
The sheriff said he would want all three officers to know each and every door in all 14 schools.
'We've reached a point where our students are practicing lockdowns,' said Martin.
Church recalled witnessing an attempted parental kidnapping at Ocean City Elementary and mentioned another incident of a parent assaulting a teacher. Nonetheless, Boggs questioned whether the additional officers were necessary.
'I really do not want to see police cars in front of our schools,' Boggs said.
Boggs said she does not want to send the message that the schools are not safe.
With 20 percent of the county population in the schools on any school day, Andes said school resource officers make sense. Church agreed.
'The most valuable resource we have in this county is our children,' he said.
Very few taxpayers would complain about the cost of three officers, vehicles, uniforms and gear for school resource officers, he said, adding, 'I think it's money very well spent.'
Commissioner Bob Cowger, whose son attends Pocomoke High School, said the Board of Education does not release all the information on violent incidents within the schools.'I'm glad [my son] will be getting out of that high school. There are problems in our schools,' Cowger said. 'I'm not going to put a monetary value on my son's life.'