Additional SRO planned to enhance school safety

Published 12:17 am Wednesday, July 6, 2022

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The recently reestablished Education Committee received a briefing on plans to enhance student safety through the use of school resource officers at its Wednesday, June 29 meeting. 

Suffolk Police Chief Al Chandler outlined school safety measures to the committee, which met without participation from the school board or school division. (See related story.)

Suffolk Police have seven school resource officers for the division’s middle and high schools — one in each school, Chandler said. An eighth resource officer is expected to be added at Turlington Woods School for the upcoming school year. The school is the division’s daytime alternative program for middle and high school students, who have, for disciplinary reasons, been removed from their assigned school. Previously, one school shared a resource officer with Turlington Woods. 

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“We’re going to bite the bullet and try to make sure we make that happen,” Chandler said. 

He said the day-to-day activities of the SROs include the security of their respective schools, and unless there is a job promotion or transfer, the department leaves the officers at their assigned school. They are also responsible for an elementary school. 

“At the end of the day, our police personnel are there really to be police officers,” Chandler said. “We do all of the other things, all of the mentorship and the programs, but at the end of the day, our job there is to take the appropriate police action when necessary.”

The SROs do not have to do calls for service or respond to domestic assaults — “their main responsibility is the school.”

While they are there, they work with the division’s security and principals, and they handle security for special events in the schools to ensure “an appropriate amount of law enforcement presence.”

The SROs also run or assist with different programs in the schools, including gang resistance education training. 

“One of the best things I’ve found with this school resource officer program is that they are actually able to mentor a lot of these young people,” Chandler said. 

Officers also have Go-Bags when on uniform patrol they carry with them to help them get into schools in the event of an active shooter incident. 

Chandler said Suffolk Police regularly train for active shooter threats, but he plans to run the entire department through additional training. The first goal is to prevent an incident from taking place, and working with the police detective bureau, they have prevented them, he said. 

If there is an active shooter incident, “we’re not going to wait. We’re going to go directly to the threat.”

Sheriff E.C. Harris noted that his department has been active in elementary schools, visiting at least one school daily between 15 minutes to two hours. He said they were more limited due to COVID-19, but he is ramping those programs back up. 

“It was a strain on other things, but I felt it was important enough that I go to lockup at work, or I go to the courtroom and be a bailiff to get these things done in the elementary schools,” Harris said, “but that’s Suffolk.”

His department also has Go-Bags in all of their cars, but he said if they get there in the event of an active shooter, he’s ordered them to drive through the front doors of the school and “we’ll worry about the rest of it later.” Chandler also said his officers would do the same. Harris said his department also trains with Suffolk Police regularly. 

Mayor Mike Duman, who chairs the committee, said all parties need to work collaboratively, particularly in the event of an active shooter incident. He asked how everyone can work together to provide the best safety in the schools.

“The whole purpose of this committee, the whole purposes of these meetings, is to identify a common issue,” Duman said, “and how we can work collaboratively with the resources that we have, the school’s resources and their budget, … what we can afford to do with the police department, knowing that your officers has a lot to do, and you’re understaffed, and the sheriff’s department, which is a huge asset.”