“I’ve seen death at its worst,” Sheriff Mike Wilson said Monday morning. “We look at what’s happened [with school shootings], but I don’t understand, and you don’t understand, how traumatic that might be.”
Wilson was addressing the public safety committee of the Weakley County Commission, and pleading his case for funding for school resource officers at every county school.
Currently only Martin schools have SROs, and they are funded by the city. The primary and elementary schools share one officer.
Wilson proposed adding six more officers through the sheriff’s department, at a projected cost of $382,380 for the first year.
He said that figure was generous, however, because he didn’t believe officers could be trained, equipped and ready to report July 1. But many of the costs associated with the program are one-time expenses such as training, vehicles, officer equipment, psychological testing and computer software. He said he also believed other governmental agencies would help with the startup costs. Dresden has indicated it could provide several vehicles, as well as equipment for officers in the city’s schools. Greenfield officials might also be willing to help, Wilson said.
“A lot of people are playing poker until they see what other people do,” he said.
He said protecting schoolchildren was one of the county’s “most pressing needs.” While having a school resource officer on campus is “no guarantee” that no one will get hurt, Wilson said, “if something were to happen here I’d have a hard time living with myself.”
Jason Arant, already the SRO at Westview and in that post for eight years, explained his job and how the city handled his hours. Although the school year is only 180 days, Arant said he puts in many overtime hours at school sporting events and other functions, so he accumulates compensation time that he uses over the summer. He also fills in for other Martin police officers on vacation or sick leave.
Westview Principal Jeromy Davidson told the committee how important he thought his school’s SRO was.
“If you were to take him out then I’d leave, too,” said Davidson, who has served as principal for 11 years, eight of them with an SRO.
Committee members David Hawks and Larry Hudson both expressed their belief that qualified school teachers and staff should be enlisted to help with school security.
“We can’t rely on civilians. They have to have specialized training,” Arant said. He told of the special training he received because being an SRO is not like being an officer on the street. He asked Hudson if he meant to arm these other school employees, and Hudson said emphatically that he did.
“That’s a huge error,” MPD Captain Philip Fuqua said. “That’s a huge liability.”
Wilson asked that he be allowed to make decisions concerning school safety, as that was his responsibility and his experience.
The committee approved Wilson’s request unanimously. It will be referred to the finance, ways & means committee to consider the funding of the program.
For more on the meeting which included a discussion of ambulance services and details on the scheduled school safety training planned for August, see the June 12th edition of the Press. Subscribe by calling 731-587-3144 for continuing access to #localnews.