In a memorandum from City Manager Jerry Moss circulated to members of the FAIR Committee at their meeting on Wednesday, the city manager recommended that the two positions of School Resource Officer be eliminated.
In addition to FAIR Committee members Lynn Harper, Bobby Gupton, and Ranger Wilkerson, also present were council members Garry Daeke, Lonnie Davis, Mary Emma Evans, and Elissa Yount.
The School Resource Officer (SRO) program, begun in 1994, trains officers to work in the schools not only to enforce the law, but to work as teachers and mentors to the students.
There are currently two city police officers assigned as SROs. One is assigned to Henderson Middle School, and the other is assigned to Eaton-Johnson Middle School. Although other officers from both the Vance County Sheriff’s Office and Henderson Police Department work in the high schools, they are there as paid security, a role very different from that of the SRO.
Council member Garry Daeke asked Moss what would happen if the city eliminated the SRO positions and Vance County did not pick them up.
Moss responded that he believes that providing SROs is a county responsibility.
Committee member Bobby Gupton stated that the city is reimbursed by Vance County Schools for SRO pay.
Moss replied that the city is reimbursed for nine months of pay for the officers.
During the times that school is not in session, the SROs generally perform city job functions.
Council member Lonnie Davis expressed concern regarding the SRO program. He said that they have a stabilizing effect and that he sees them as a necessity.
“These are our kids we’re talking about,” he told the members who were present. “I don’t see why we can’t make a contribution.”
He told the assembled members that he had to support the SROs in the schools.
Council member Elissa Yount said that it was up to the county and that they would decide.
Davis responded that it takes the city’s role out of the schools. He equated the city’s action to saying that the city would not send firemen here or there.
Both Davis and Yount are retired educators.
“It’s our responsibility to take care of these kids,” Davis said.
Moss reminded the committee that the city currently provides SROs in the middle schools. He briefly touched on a recent problem between a student and an officer.
“If an officer gets hurt, it’s on our liability,” he told the committee. He also said that if an officer hurts a child, it has the potential to become a lawsuit that the city will have to pay for.
Moss also stated that the city is liable when officers are working security.
The city manager affirmed the need for someone in the school, but asked if it needed to be city people in there.
FAIR Committee Chair Lynn Harper stated that the city could not afford the exposure.
Council member Mary Emma Evans made the point that the city has exposure when police officers perform police work.
Harper responded that the county already has insurance for its employees and that adding two more would not raise its rates.
Moss added that if the county can hire two more deputies to do the SRO job then the exposure is on them.
Evans stated that the police officer provides a certain amount of comfort. She told members that there are a lot of bullies in school, and that the police officer is like a role model and eliminates a lot of tension for the kids.
Davis added that SROs serve as a deterrent to crime in the city. He claimed the the SRO gives children a respect for him or her that they would not ordinarily have.
Council member Ranger Wilkerson asked what would be wrong with deputies performing the SRO job function.
Davis replied that students do not come into contact with deputies as much as with the Henderson Police Department.
Although the positions may be eliminated, it was established that the officers themselves would be assigned to other duties.