Sheriff provides update on SROs, emphasizes need exists
By Carole Robinson, Senior Staff Writer
Williamson County Sheriff Jeff Long brought along Longview Elementary School Resource Officer Becky Coyle to meet with about two-dozen constituents Saturday when he provided an update on the 49 S.R.O.s who are now in all public schools in Williamson County.
Resource officers “are dedicated to the security of the facility,” Long said. “We have redirected our efforts after [the incident at Sandy Hook Elementary in] Connecticut.”
Now, officers do a security sweep of the buildings each morning before anyone enters and they maintain vigilance at the main entrance and in the hallways during the day while also mentoring children, Coyle explained.
The DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program was pulled because it duplicated other curricula being taught and to keep the officers from being static. Some were spending as much as six hours in the classroom.
“A school is like a little city,” Coyle said. “We have kids whose parents we had dealings with. They haven’t seen us in the best circumstances. Being in the elementary schools we have been to mentor those kids. We’ve lost them by middle school.”
After the shooting in Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead in December 2012, Long received a call from Williamson County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney requesting S.R.O.s in elementary schools.
That call led to a meeting with County Mayor Rogers Anderson. Within just a few weeks, $2.1 million was approved to hire 32 officers for all county and Franklin Special School District elementary schools.
There were already officers in the county’s 17 middle and high schools.
“I came to a point, especially after Connecticut,” Long said, recounting his thoughts, “how can I face a parent and tell them their [elementary] child is not as important as a child in high school or middle school?”
“It was a massive undertaking hiring, ordering equipment and doing intensive background checks.”
A training company was hired to train the new the officers right here in the county.
By the first day of school in August, there was a sheriff’s deputy in every public school in the county.
Twenty-four officers were transferred from the jail, he said, adding that those officers know the issues, they know some of the players, they learn how to deal with them.
“It is probably one of the toughest jobs you could have,” Long said.
Having one law enforcement department responsible for S.R.O.s creates uniformity in policies, procedures, radios and uniforms.
Since school opened, “We’ve had three incidents with guns in schools,” Long said when asked if S.R.O.s are really needed in schools.
Through interaction with the students, an officer at Fairview High learned about a student plan to “come to school and kill somebody,” Long said.
“The SRO went to the student’s house. The mom consented to a search. He found a loaded gun he had stolen from the father’s gun safe under his bed.”
A resource officer also intercepted and prevented an incident during an FSSD middle school party, Long said.
Can an incident like what happened in Colorado or Connecticut occur in Williamson County?
“Yes, it can,” Long said. The demographics prove it—population, income, schools are “all about the same. We’ve been fortunate not to have had an incident.”
One of the first school shootings happened at Richland High in Giles County, Tennessee in 1995, recalled Long.
One student and one teacher were killed and another teacher was seriously wounded.
Long is speaking with private schools in the county to coordinate responses and help train security being hired to insure that each agency knows what the other is doing in an emergency.
Posted on: 10/17/2013