Informal meeting offers new ideas on school safety

Published 10:35 pm Monday, January 14, 2013

By AMY JONES / Associate Editor

INDIAN SPRINGS — Educators, law enforcement officers, parents and elected officials came together to discuss school safety ideas during an informal meeting Jan. 14 at the Indian Springs Town Hall.

Pelham Mayor Gary Waters proposed several ideas to fund police officers in schools, including asking the county to earmark funds from the Shelby County Community Health Foundation for such a purpose.

Waters also said school officials should cut back on expenditures where possible to try to leave more money to fund a law enforcement presence on school campuses.

“You folks in the schools are going to have to ask the hard questions. Can those band uniforms wait one more year?” he said.

Waters also proposed leaving extra law enforcement vehicles on school campuses to give the impression of officers at the schools, as well as investing in survivability training for school children. He compared such training to the “stop, drop and roll” training children have received for years.

Waters, along with Pelham Police Chief Tommy Thomas and Helena Mayor Mark Hall, also expressed interest in utilizing what he termed “part-time cops,” semi-retired police officers who could supplement their incomes by serving as school officers.

“It is going to take deliberate planning to come up with a deliberate plan,” Waters said.

During the meeting, Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry said the sheriff’s office will continue to place deputies in schools in areas the sheriff’s office is responsible for, including Chelsea schools, Oak Mountain schools, and Inverness, Mt Laurel, Wilsonville and Shelby elementary schools. However, without dedicated funding for the school officers, “the only way we can do it is by reducing services in other areas,” he said.

That reduction in services means fewer deputies patrolling the streets, Curry said.

“We’ve got to prioritize the expenditures we have. We can’t spend money we don’t have,” Curry said.

Moving forward, the sheriff’s department’s goal is to provide school resource officer training for every officer placed in schools, he said.

Curry also said parents have expressed a willingness to help pay for deputies in schools — a cost of at least $80,000 per year per deputy — but stressed that sustainability is key, and fundraisers and donations are not a sustainable funding solution.

“Fundraisers could help us get over the hump, but we must look for a permanent solution,” he said.

Calera Mayor Jon Graham said his city has five police officers on each day shift, so staffing each of Calera’s four schools is a difficult proposition. Calera officers on patrol check on the schools multiple times per day, he said.

“If I put one officer in every school today, crime would just run rampant,” he said. “We need to think outside the box. There are lots of other options, in my opinion.”

One such option is contracting with a private security firm to guard the schools, which would be cheaper than funding a school resource officer, he said.

Calera Police Chief Sean Lemley said while he would “love nothing more than to have school resource officers in each school,” that solution isn’t currently financially viable.

“If I hire a school resource officer, it costs me $100,000 — in four schools, $400,000,” Lemley said. “A security guard can do that for much cheaper.”

Lemley also suggested perhaps finding a way to use a portion of traffic ticket revenues or court costs to fund school resource officers.

“Contrary to popular belief, the police department doesn’t get money from tickets,” he said.

Parents and administrators from several area schools attended the meeting, along with Shelby County Schools Superintendent Randy Fuller. The meeting was organized and hosted by Indian Springs Mayor Brenda Bell-Guercio.