County chair wants police help

Published 12:05 am Thursday, December 27, 2012

A push to put a school resource officer in every county school may become a joint venture by the county school board, the county commission and local police departments.

Commission Chairman Bill Godwin said Wed-nesday that suggestion was part of a nine-item punch list submitted to Superi-ntendent Terry Holley after last week’s joint meeting on school safety. The meeting was called after the Connecticut school shooting that left 27, including the gunman, dead.

At last week’s local meeting, all agreed they’d like to see the four additional officers added, and at a minimum, two; however, the meeting closed with talks about how to fund the new staff.

“My thought is if we can get the local police departments where the schools are to hire an officer and (the commission) and the school board contribute money to them, then it would put an additional officer on their staff two to three months out of the year,” Godwin said. “That officer would be 100 percent dedicated to the school from 7:30 to 3:30, 180 days out of the year. Any time school’s not in session, then that officer could be working for his department.”

His hope is that Florala and Lockhart could fund an additional SRO there; Opp could fund an officer for Fleeter and Red Level could fund an officer, Godwin said.

He said he also hopes to see a memorandum of understanding executed by each entity involved – if everyone agrees with his suggestion.

Currently, there is a deputy stationed on the campuses at Straughn, Pleasant Home and Red Level. One deputy splits his time between Florala High School and W.S. Harlan, while Opp Police officers and county deputies “fill in the blank” at Fleeta Jr. High School. Those attending last week’s meeting would like to see another officer at W.S. Harlan/Florala, one at Fleeta and two more at Straughn.

Godwin said his suggestion would do just that.

“If they have a part-time officer on staff now at the (local police) department, maybe we can help with funds to push them to fulltime,” he said. “That’s a suggestion. And, at Fleeta, I think we could work that point out with Opp (Police Department) as a possibility. Of course, we’d have to examine the jurisdiction rules to see if that’s doable.”

He said at Straughn, however, that cost would be absorbed by the sheriff’s office.

This year, $212,575 is budgeted for the four deputies – or $65,500 per deputy, which includes salaries, benefits and vehicle and insurance costs. The county school board contributes $50,000 a year toward the total cost. The school board has also agreed to cover the $10,000 training cost for each new SRO.

Godwin said he hasn’t discussed his suggestion with other commissioners, but if all agrees, the measure could be put into place with the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year.