06/13/13 — County seeks resource officer funding

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County seeks resource officer funding

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 13, 2013 1:46 PM

Wayne County commissioners Monday did not jump at the chance to replace sheriff's deputies with private security guards at the county's public schools.

But they did appear interested in asking the Wayne County Board of Education to pick up more of the cost associated with the school resource officers program that puts those deputies in the schools.

Commissioner Joe Daughtery suggested during the commissioners' Monday budget work session that private security might be a way to make cuts to the county budget, which includes nearly $400,000 for the school resource officers program.

After all, he said, the county already uses private security at the county courthouse.

However, both Sheriff Carey Winders and County Manager Lee Smith quickly interrupted to say that was only partially correct since the facility was next door to the Sheriff's Office.

Daughtery pressed on that private security is used at the Health Department. Winders and Smith said that was correct.

Daughtery said he wondered if the use of private security at schools had been considered at all and that if not, that it might deserve consideration even if it was shelved.

Currently, the schools receive $210,000 -- $30,000 for each of the seven school resource officers -- from the state, Winders said.

"But you are $180,000 short (of funding the program)," he said.

"The sheriff and I have had discussions with them (school board) before about reducing somewhere else on the local money to pick this up," Smith said. "It is kind of this deal, you pay it over here or you pay it over there."

Daughtery said when the state first started the program years ago it was possible to hire a deputy for $30,000. That is no longer the case, but the state has not adjusted the amount, he said.

The salary and benefits package for a new deputy is approximately $48,000, not including uniform, gun or bullet-proof vest, Winders said.

Commissioner Ray Mayo asked Winders if school resource officers were used in other capacities during the school year.

"They have to work ballgames, and they are on call," Winders said. "We have had them come out and guard crime scenes."

Winders said the $180,000 shortfall was for the entire year. The school board might not need to pay the entire $180,000, but it does need pay more, Winders said.

"We are providing officers for the board of education, and we need for them to step up to the plate with some more funding for the county, just on the resource officers," Mayo said.

Commissioner Ed Cromartie, who is a retired educator, told Winders that "with all due respect" to Daughtery that he did not want the Sheriff's Office to look at using anyone other than deputies in schools.

Deputies are authorized to handle situations beyond just school issues, Cromartie said. When deputies show up, school personnel step aside and let the deputies handle the situation.

"So it is not just somebody walking the halls who looks like they are in charge," Cromartie said. "It is somebody walking the halls who the principal and citizens feel like can step up and do what needs to be done where law enforcement is concerned."

The source of the money can be negotiated, but commissioners need to do all they can to ensure trained law enforcement officers are the ones walking the halls at school, he said.

That provides a sense of confidence for those at a school, Cromartie said.

What people don't realize is that private security guards lack any real authority, Winders said. Also, it is difficult enough for a true law enforcement officer to get any respect, he said.

Chairman Steve Keen said the county needed to look at the $18 million in current expense that it funds the schools to find out if money could be allocated for the resource officers program.