Finding an approach to school security

Published 11:29 am Tuesday, March 19, 2013

By DAVID NICHOLS / Guest Columnist

There is agreement among all constituencies in Shelby County that children must be safe at school at every level. This has been an important goal set by local, state and federal agencies for more than two decades.

In 2002 the Federal Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act became law and required all states to adopt measures to deal with school violence and the illegal use of drugs and alcohol. Alabama law requires all school boards, superintendents and principals to respond to potential safety issues. This law includes proactive responses by school officials to acts of violence, intruders and any threat that may present danger to students and employees. The Shelby County Board of Education includes in its Student Code of Conduct that “The purpose of this handbook, as well as enforcement of its rules, is to insure the presence of a safe, friendly and professional atmosphere…” Additional measures now in place include monitored surveillance cameras, enhanced entrance control, metal detectors and other common sense strategies.

Acts of violence, including hostage-taking, firearms possession and shootings have increased across the country, including at least one Shelby County school. Once considered safe havens, no school is immune from crime and violence, drugs and firearms.

Shelby County schools are among the safest schools in the nation. Many school systems have implemented an effective program — school resource officers. The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office has participated in this program, which requires 40 hours of special training. While this is the best example of school and community policing, it may not be affordable. However, the concept can be implemented and serve to make our schools safer.

According to Shelby County Sheriff Chris Curry, there is a widespread outcry for on-site law enforcement officers in every school in Shelby County.

This can be achieved through the efforts of municipalities, the Shelby County Board of Education, the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and the Shelby County Commission. Curry is seeking full-time deputies for about 12 schools. The County Commission may find funding difficult during financially austere times.

To hire 12 additional full-time officers would cost approximately $726,180. There are only 180 school days in a school year. By utilizing retired and semi-retired officers, recently retired federal law enforcement agents and military police, the cost to provide full coverage for 180 days at the rate paid to courthouse security officers would amount to approximately $345,000 with no benefits.

Current school resource officers could provide guidance for these people. The Etowah County Sheriff’s Department has partnered with the Etowah County Board of Education and the County Commission to employ semi-retired and, perhaps, retired sworn officers.

This has merit for Shelby County. Some may require no additional training, while some may need an 80-hour refresher course to reinstate their certification.

Protecting our children while at school is a high priority. Our elected officials should be willing to improvise, compromise and partner for our children and school employees.

Dr. David Nichols is a former chief of police and school administrator. He has served as a member of the Shelby County Board of Education.