Sheriff presents plan for SRO coverage for rest of school year

Published 7:04 pm Thursday, April 20, 2017

Carter County Sheriff Dexter Lunceford spoke with county school system officials Thursday afternoon to detail a temporary plan to improve School Resource Officer coverage at the schools.

Currently, funding exists within the Sheriff’s budget to provide 14 School Resource Officers. Some of the funding for the officers comes from the school system while part comes from the Sheriff’s Office budget.

The School Resource Officer program started with four officers — one at each of the county’s high schools. Over the years, additional funds were allocated to add officers.

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“When I took office we had 13,” Lunceford told the Board Thursday afternoon. “We now have 14. I took funding from within my budget for the 14th officer.”

The Carter County School System has 15 schools, which means one school does not have an SRO on site. Though Carter County is one officer short of having an SRO at every school, the program is better staffed than programs in neighboring counties.

“I talked to one director, I won’t say his name, he only has four SROs and has 17 schools,” Carter County Director of Schools Dr. Kevin Ward said on Thursday.

Under the current staffing, the Carter County program has more SROs than Sullivan, Washington, Unicoi, and Johnson Counties have combined. Sullivan County has four SROs, Washington has five, and Unicoi and Johnson County each have one SRO, Lunceford said.

While Carter County has a stronger program, both Lunceford and Ward want to provide an officer for each of the county’s 15 schools. However, to do that is going to require additional funding from somewhere.

The subject of an SRO for Little Milligan Elementary has been a topic of discussion during the County Commission meetings for the past two months. During Monday’s meeting, Commissioner Larry “Doc” Miller, whose District includes Little Milligan, made and unprecedented move to freeze funding for the Sheriff’s Office and school system until an SRO was placed at the school but ultimately the motion failed by an overwhelming margin.

Lunceford said while an SRO is not stationed at the school full time, his officers do check in at the school and respond to calls there.

Currently, Little Milligan is not the only school without a permanent SRO. Deputy Tonya Range is currently out on medical leave following a severe motor vehicle accident earlier this year, and another position is vacant following an officer leaving the department.

On Thursday, Lunceford presented a plan to have more widespread SRO coverage through the end of the school year.

“We’re going to pull from the various schools, and they will have to do without their SRO one day a week,” Lunceford said, adding the rotation schedule will be kept secure to maintain safety at the schools.

“We have a temporary fix, and we are working on a permanent solution,” Lunceford said. “Me and Dr. Ward have worked on this for two years.”

Lunceford said not only does his department need additional funds to provide a fifteenth SRO for the school system, but he will also need time to ensure they receive the proper training required under state law not only for law enforcement officers but also training specific to school resource officers.

“We are in the process of trying to get a federal grant to fund one at 75/25 — 25 percent for us and 75 percent in federal money,” Lunceford said, adding the grant would last for three years.