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WILLIAMSON COUNTY Budget committee OKs money for SROs in elementary school

The Williamson County Commission Budget Committee unanimously approved funding for 32 new armed officers to serve in the county's kindergarten through grade 8 schools and those of the Franklin Special School District on Monday night. The move was prompted by the December shooting at a Connecticut school that killed 20 children and six adults. The measure will move on to the full Commission for final approval Jan. 14.

County Mayor Rogers Anderson and the County Commission moved swiftly in December to informally commit funds to increase school security in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shooting. The move enabled county commissioners, and, by extension, City of Franklin administrators to begin plans to increase security at area schools without waiting for the county's budgetary approval processes to play out.

The primary resolution approved Monday afternoon adds $1.94 million to the Williamson County Sheriff's Office budget to install 24 armed school resource officers (SROs) in the county's 23 elementary schools and Middle College High School. The committee also approved an amendment to increase the amount to $2.58 million, which, through an interlocal agreement, would provide an SRO for each of the eight schools that comprise the Franklin Special School District. The funds will be used to hire, train, and equip the 32 SROs through the end of July. Anderson said it would cost $2.15 million to fund the positions annually thereafter.

Williamson County Sheriff Jeff Long said he has not decided whether the SROs will wear Class A uniforms, as sheriff's deputies do, or golf shirts, which serve not to “excite the students as much.”

Filling the positions could take months, he said, as hiring and training processes are thorough, but time consuming. The mandatory screening process for would-be law enforcement officers in Tennessee includes psychological evaluations, a measure Long said he would bolster by administering polygraph examinations.

“These are the most important hires I've made in my tenure,” Long told the Budget Committee.

Long said the schools that take the most amount of time for law enforcement to reach would be the first to receive SROs. Until each school is staffed, he said, Sheriff's deputies and police officers from the cities within the county will continue to provide additional security patrols, a measure implemented immediately after the Sandy Hook shootings.

Anderson asked Dr. Mike Looney, superintendent of Williamson County Schools to address the idea of arming school teachers, a topic the mayor suggested has been raised by members of the public.

“That would be a huge mistake, having teachers to make decisions whether to use deadly force,” Looney said. “The SROs are trained to do that.”

Long said arming teachers could also complicate an emergency situation by creating confusion for emergency personnel.

“Our officers are trained to go to the threat, and the threat is a gun,” he said. “We try to neutralize that threat as quickly as possible.”

Looney reminded the committee that the shooter in the 2010 Inskip Elementary School shooting in Knoxville was a teacher.


Posted on: 1/8/2013


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