By BROOKE WANSER
During Monday evening’s county commission meeting, the board unanimously voted to add eight additional school resource officers (SROs) to the Williamson County Schools district.
The resolution also called for the placement of an additional officer at the county administrative complex.
Commissioners Barb Sturgeon, District 8, Steve Smith, District 12, and Paul Webb, District 6, sponsored the resolution.
The funding, $965,311.78, will be appropriated and amended from county general funds to the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office budget.
Smith, the chair of the law enforcement committee, said Sturgeon originally suggested it in discussion with Sheriff Jeff Long.
“With the difficulty that Sheriff Long has had in providing backup for SROs who have had to be out for illness or various other reasons, there are certain schools at certain times that may not be covered the way we intend for them to be,” he said.
Under the resolution, schools with over 1,500 students, Smith said, would have two SROs.
“With everything going on in the world today, as Dr. Looney has impressed upon us, the safety of students is of paramount importance,” he said.
District 4 Commissioner Gregg Lawrence suggested deferring the item, pointing to Gov. Bill Haslam’s convening of a task force on school safety.
He also suggested getting input from the school board before making the decision.
Schools superintendent Dr. Mike Looney said he supported the measure. “We think it’s a critical piece of a complex and comprehensive safety plan,” he said.
“They do so much more than prevent a school shooting or respond to a school shooting,” Looney said of the preventative work SROs undertake to foster a safer school community. “They’re building relationships with students so that law enforcement is seen as a partner in our community rather than just a cop that the students should be afraid of.”
Sheriff Jeff Long referenced a bill currently in the state house on arming teachers.
“I think Williamson County and you, the commissioners, in particular have set the standard of what it should be in Tennessee,” he said.
“You have allowed us to put well-qualified, trained sheriff’s deputies in our schools, and I feel like in this day and time, they are able to meet whatever need we need to meet, should we, God I hope never happens, have an event in our community like that.”
“Teachers are taught to teach. They are not taught to defend the students in their classroom,” Long continued.
Long urged the commission not to wait, describing the in-depth training of SROs and his hopes to place new ones in the schools by August.
“After the Florida incident, I would much rather be safe than sorry,” he said.