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Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

Schools' security to increase

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Parents concerned about their children's return to Bedford County classrooms Monday can find some relief in knowing there will be an increased law enforcement presence.

Police officers are checking city schools regularly, a new security officer will be posted at Thomas Magnet School, and the county will attempt to place an officer at each of the other schools.

Terry Looper, director of student services for the county school system, said the new measures are being implemented on a 40-day trial basis while the school system, and the county government that controls its finances, look at what to do next.

Police presence

Shelbyville police have been keeping a closer eye on schools since the beginning of this school year -- well before December's Connecticut school shootings -- Chief Austin Swing said.

"Since the beginning of this school year we've been walking through schools inside the city limits regularly," Swing said.

Officers met during the summer with Dr. Ray Butrum, who was then county schools superintendent, and discussed safety issues.

"Our officers walked through all the buildings and familiarized themselves with them," Swing said.

Heightened awareness continues, with a department-wide meeting held this week on school safety.

More SROs

Bedford County Financial Management Committee, meeting last month, discussed hiring School Resource Officers for all of the schools that don't yet have them -- at a total cost of $257,572. SROs are specially-trained law enforcement officers who provide security but also participate in teaching safety curriculum, talking to individual students, and so on.

But, as principals were told in a memo last week from interim school superintendent Mike Bone, that proposal still needs the approval of the full county commission, and a funding source would have to be found for it.

At this point, the only available revenue sources are non-recurring one-time revenue, and so any officers hired using those funds would have to be considered temporary employees until a more permanent solution were found.

Even if funding is approved, it would take weeks or months to hire and properly train SROs.

City may help

The non-SRO county officers who will serve at schools other than Thomas may rotate, said Looper, perhaps with two patrol officers taking school duty on alternate weeks.

City Manager Jay Johnson, some city council members and Swing have discussed city police officers possibly working in the non-SRO positions.

County officers would have to be paid overtime, unlike city officers, Swing said.

"If we can come to an agreement on a set price, no benefits involved, it would be better economically," Swing said. "Either way you get a certified officer.

"It's a hard decision but they want children protected. There's one thing we're unanimous on -- safety of the children."

Other possibilities

The memo sent to principals last week outlines other security measures being discussed and reviewed, including a greater emphasis on securing outside doors.

Davis Stokes Collaborative, the school system's architectural firm, will review school security as well.

School officials will investigate a new panic button system being used in Murfreesboro in which principals wear buttons around their necks, much like the medical alert pendants advertised on late night television.

City concern

Parental concern arose locally immediately after the Connecticut incident, when an angry step-parent allegedly threatened to harm students and faculty at Thomas and, in an unrelated incident, threats against children at a unnamed Shelbyville school's playground were written on a wall at a Lebanon truck stop. Suspects have been arrested in both cases.

Although Bedford County schools have been out for the Christmas and New Year's holidays, the SACP program at Thomas has been open and officers have been stopping by, Swing said.

City officers' time in schools is somewhat limited due to the necessity of answering calls at other locations, Swing said.

Protection

The public high schools outside Shelbyville city limits -- and Harris Middle and Central High inside the city -- have student resource officers. The officers are Bedford County deputies assigned full-time to each school during the school year.

Several elementary schools in Shelbyville lack SROs.

SROs are assigned to Community High School and to the building which houses Cascade High School and Cascade Middle School, although in both cases they're in proximity to nearby elementary schools. Cascade Elementary is next door to Cascade High School; Community Elementary and Community Middle are only a short distance away from Community High School.

Appreciation

The city officers' time spent in schools is appreciated, Swing said.

"Some of the principals and teachers even have us eat with them. Officers stop in and eat lunch regularly."

Looper said the school system deeply appreciates the support of law enforcement and the county commission in helping to promote school security.