There will be no school resource officer at Washington County High School.
The Washington County Board of Education voted against the idea of placing an officer in the school at Monday night’s board meeting.
Springfield Chief of Police Fred Armstrong and WCHS Principal Leon Smith presented the idea to the board at their meeting Monday night at Fredericktown Elementary.
The vote was 3-2, with Michael McCain, Pat Clements and Patsy Lester voting against the motion, and Buffy Mann and Nora Niece voting in favor.
Smith said the school has a .5 administrative position available and would like to use that position to help pay for the SRO. Smith said the officer would act as a deterrent at the high school and also serve in an instructional capacity.
“It’s another trained set of eyes,” said Smith. “We’re no longer Mayberry. Things happen. This year, we’ve had a few more fights than we normally have. I think it’s the result of an influx of gang-type things that are going on in Bardstown and spilling into this area. As long as we continue to turn our heads, we’re going to get it. Every fight we’ve had this year has been the result of some type of text message. The threats start off campus, and then when they get to school, that’s the first place they meet. We still have fewer fights than most school districts, and our worst day is better than their best day. The SRO would work in the classrooms and extend into the community. It’s another resource we could have.”
Chief Armstrong told the board that recent gang activity has crept its way into the school and is a prime concern for his staff, as well as the school’s staff and faculty. Mann expressed concern about the officer carrying a gun in the school.
“I’ve been in this business 47 years,” said Armstrong. “It shouldn’t have either a positive or a negative influence. Our officers are well-trained, and it’s something that they have to have. One thing people should be aware of is that we do have a gang called SPG, and there’s a lot of recruitment that’s going on. We have information that some juveniles are carrying guns. These are things that are going on in our community. Our community is safe, there’s no doubt about it, and we’ve had very few problems at the school this year. The officer would ensure the safety of all our students.”
“Just the very presence will deter action as opposed to something happening and then reacting to it,” said Mann. “Students don’t really pay attention to the gun because it’s a part of the officer’s uniform. It also establishes a positive relationship with the police and students.”
The annual cost to hire an officer would be $46,616, including base salary, worker’s compensation insurance, unemployment insurance, social security, medical and retirement. The board was asked to pick up 60 to 70 percent of the tab, with the city of Springfield picking up the rest of the cost. Any SRO needs to be affiliated with an accredited law enforcement agency.
Niece made a motion to approve the hiring of the SRO, with a second by Mann. McCain asked for a role call vote, which each board member used to express their opinion on the matter.
“I don’t think we need officers in our school building,” said McCain. “I think the dress code should be changed. I think we need to look at the use of cell phones. Personally, I see the community with a patrolman in our school system as a fear tactic. I’ve been at the school and we have good kids up there, but we’ve got kids up there with their underwear showing. When you dress up and have nice clean clothes on, you feel good, you feel better about yourself. I think we need a better dress code and stricter rules.”
“Both gentlemen made very compelling arguments,” said Clements. “On the other hand, as a board member, it’s an issue I’ve struggled to make a decision with. I’ve polled a couple dozen constituents and I don’t have the support. The people that I represent are not for it, and I’m going to vote no based on their feelings.”
Patsy Lester expressed mixed feelings about the proposal, stating that she has also talked to several constituents about the issue and did not have strong support in favor of the SRO.
“I would like to see what else you could do with that money that would help you relieve fear and would let you be more in the role that you want to be in,” she told Smith. “I have a problem with who controls what. Maybe I need to visit some schools, because I really don’t understand who this officer would be responsible to. I probably don’t have enough understanding at this point to make the decision that I really need to make.”
Mann expressed her approval, saying that the SRO at the Marion County school where she teaches brings a relaxed atmosphere to the school.
Niece also agreed to try the program for one year, but questioned how the school and police department would judge if the placement of the SRO was a success.
“Depending on how the job is used, who is in that role and how they act, the right person could serve as a liaison between academics and behavior issues,” Niece said.
After the proposal failed to pass, Smith expressed his feelings.
“We’ve looked at our resources and where we are, and I think we provided the best solution to keep a safe school. Now it does concern me if something does happen, where do we stand. We’re not in it to hurt anyone, but the success we’ve had with an officer in the building this year, it has made an impact and we felt like that was a good way to go,” he said. “I’m disappointed, but that’s the board’s decision. The vote was final, and I think it’s dead in the water.”