State panel discusses better training for officers in schools

By: Lindsay Marchello - Carolina Journal

RALEIGH — The need to train school resource officers more intensively was a recurring theme during a meeting of the Student Physical Safety and Security working group.

The group is one of two offshoots of the House Select Committee on School Safety. While the other working group focuses on mental health, the meeting Tuesday, April 17, looked at the role of SROs and the training needed to serve and protect schools.

Chip Hughes, former chairman of the Governor’s Task Force for Safer Schools, said only the best officers should serve as SROs. Hughes called for more specialized training to deal with a variety of threats. He said the role must become more attractive for qualified officers.

Basic training for SROs is 40 course hours. Advanced SRO training requires another 40 hours. The certificate program with the N.C. Justice Academy requires 400 hours.

“We need to make sure the SROs that are in [schools] are the most qualified men and women, and they are getting the proper training and the equipment they need.” Hughes said.

Mike Anderson, community development and training manager at N.C. Center for Safer Schools. stressed the importance of lockdown drills. Under statute, districts must require each school to conduct at least one annual drill. Anderson said the requirement should include charter schools.

Other short-term solutions include enacting a system of accountability to track which schools have performed a drill. Anderson suggested clarifying the difference between an SRO and an armed guard, as well as the difference between a vulnerabilities assessment, which deals with school facilities, and a threat assessment, which concerns people.

The other half of the committee meeting featured two sheriffs, who talked about how their offices are addressing the demand for safer schools.

Rockingham Sheriff Sam Page talked about his volunteer SRO program, which he announced Feb. 28 at a press conference.

A 2013 law let Page start a program to enlist former law or military police officers as volunteer SROs. Any volunteer for the program would have extensive training, which, Page said, is developing.

“Training for volunteers needs to be effective and purpose specific without being so overwhelming that it dissuades potential volunteers,” Page said.

The volunteer program is one option, he said.

“Ideally, funding for full-time school resource officers dedicated to each public school in North Carolina is the best option … along with more support for counselors and school psychologists,” Page said.

Carteret County Sheriff Asa Buck said his office created a position to address school security. The school security intelligence liaison — or school resource detective — will serve as the point of contact for all law enforcement agencies, respective school systems, and residents to share information about potential threats to schools.

Buck said sharing information across jurisdictions is important in preventing violence.

The committee also heard from Joe Haas, executive director of N.C. Christian Schools Association. Funding for SROs, he said, isn’t available for nontraditional schools.

Haas said he would support additional funding for SROs, but he also wants a law allowing teachers and faculty to voluntarily receive training to carry firearms.

Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, suggested legislation to expand the qualification pool for volunteer SROs. Several lawmakers expressed an interest in legislation to provide more money to hire more SROs and to require extensive training.

Some legislators urged caution.

Rep. Yvonne Lewis Holley, D-Wake, said lawmakers should be careful about overpolicing, particularly among minorities, who could end up with criminal records.

Rep. John A. Torbett, R-Gaston, chairman of the House Select Committee on School Safety, said the committee will continue to look at the issues and work to find solutions and estimate costs.

Lindsay Marchello

Carolina Journal