Amid reports of another school shooting, Durham County and school leaders talked Tuesday about how to make sure four middle schools and Durham School of the Arts have school resource officers next year.
The Durham Police Department, which currently has officers at the schools, is getting out of the SRO business in June. So, Durham Public Schools must find alternative security for Rogers-Herr, Shepard, Brogden and Lakewood Montessori middle schools and DSA.
Sheriff's deputies, who already work as SROs at the district's other middle schools and high schools, and have been doing so since 1998, will likely fill the vacancies.
But Sheriff Mike Andrews told DPS leaders and county commissioners on Tuesday that it could take up to one year to hire and train deputies to become SROs.
"We don't have the manpower to fill those positions currently," Andrews said . "It will take at least eight to 12 months to hire those individuals and to find individuals who fit working in a school. It takes a special person to work in a school setting."
While deputies are being trained, DPS and the county could have to hire off-duty officers to serve as SROs at the five schools at a cost of $272,803 for the 2018-19 school year. DPS projects that it will spend $920,710 on off-duty officers even without the five additional officers to cover the five schools.
Commissioners, who hold the school district's purse strings, would rather not pay for off-duty officers to work as SROs while also footing the bill to hire and train deputies to become permanent SROs.
"I just hope that we can as a community, Mr. Manager [County Manager Wendell Davis], appeal to the city to work with us because folks they have in the schools have been there and done that," said County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow.
Davis said he would contact City Manager Tom Bonfield to see if the city would be willing to extend the year the city has already given DPS to find replacements for the police officers working as SROs in the five schools this year.
"Nothing has changed from where we were last year," Bonfield said when reached Tuesday and asked if the city would be willing to do that.
Under an agreement adopted last year the city agreed to allow its officers to remain at the schools for an additional year while DPS figured out how to replace them.
Before this year, the schools were staffed by Durham police officers who taught students the Gang Resistance Education and Training curriculum. They were called GREAT officers even though they performed many of the same duties as traditional SROs.
DPS, then under Superintendent Bert L'Homme, asked the city to allow the officers to become full-time SROs.
But some City Council members objected.
"The council talked with them about this and they made it clear that they did not want these police officers to become SROs," Bonfield said.
Last summer, City Councilwoman Jillian Johnson posted a warning on her Facebook page that students are much more likely to be arrested and/or charged with a crime when an SRO is on campus.
“There is little evidence that having police officers in schools improves student outcomes, but there is ample evidence that the criminalization of youth in schools leads to students being charged with crimes for incidents that should be seen as normal misbehavior,” Johnson wrote.
Tina Ingram, the school district's director of security, said DPS has had great success working with off-duty officers, but would rather have permanent SROs in place to provide continuity to students, teachers and principals.
"Daily consistency is very important on school campuses," Ingram said.
In North Carolina, an SRO is a certified law enforcement officer permanently assigned to a school or set of schools. The SRO is trained to perform three roles: law enforcement officer, law-related counselor and law-related education teacher. The SRO is not necessarily a DARE officer (although many have received such training), security guard or officer placed temporarily in a school in response to a crisis situation.
Bonfield said he would put the matter on the agenda for city, county and school district leaders to talk about at their monthly joint discussion next week.
Tuesday's discussion about Durham's SROs took place while some meeting participants received updates on their phones about a school shooting in Great Mills, Maryland.
A student with a handgun shot two classmates inside Great Mills High School before he was fatally wounded by a school resource officer. The students wounded were a 16 year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy.