Due to popular demand, and a good bit of peer pressure, there will now be a police officer in every school in the city of Charleston.
The city, county and school district have worked out a tentative agreement that calls for each to pay about one-third of the cost of putting school resource officers in every elementary school in Charleston. The Sheriff’s Office will provide six deputies, and the Charleston Police Department will provide a dozen officers.
The catch is, this deal only covers the first year. City taxpayers will likely have to foot two-thirds of the bill afterward. Schools will pay the rest.
It’s a safe bet the potential city tax increase that follows will not be nearly as popular as school resource officers. But don’t blame Charleston officials.
They had no choice.
Following the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the Charleston Police Department built an 18-member School Security Response Team to monitor and protect the city’s public and private schools. The department also has SROs in all middle and high schools, but not elementary schools.
Police Chief Luther Reynolds and his predecessor, Greg Mullen, say the roving response team is better and safer than having an officer in every school. Each member is specially trained to handle active shooter situations — training most school resource officers don’t have.
But their arguments haven’t swayed Charleston County School District officials, who catch incessant heat from parents to beef up security. Frustrated, school officials turned to Sheriff Al Cannon. Cannon helpfully and immediately agreed to provide the SROs to city elementary schools. But when he asked County Council for the funding to cover his costs, Chairman Elliott Summey flat-out demanded SROs in all schools.
That made the difference here.
Summey argued officers on campus not only make children safer, they build community relationships and show students they need not fear cops. It’s a fair point. Cannon, the senior law enforcement official in the county, saw the need because increased security at middle and high schools has made elementary schools more attractive targets for loons with guns. Can’t argue with that.
Additional SROs will make parents feel better, but Chief Reynolds told The Post and Courier’s Mikaela Porter this is no cure-all. And he’s also right.
“Putting a cop in an elementary school does not make it safe,” Reynolds said. “It takes training, communication, leadership and good policy. And we’re going to continue to work on that. ... We want to add value to the learning environment.”
After all, there was a sheriff’s deputy assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., just as there have been cops at other school shootings. Point is, there are no guarantees. And this is a complicated issue.
But the city did the right thing. Because if Charleston had refused, and there was a tragedy at an elementary school — a depressingly valid concern — city officials would have been blamed.
For now, city schoolchildren will have the best of both worlds. The city will still operate its response team and coordinate with the Sheriff’s Office, which will put deputies in a half-dozen schools (as it does for a dozen in the county). Chief Deputy Eric Watson says the two agencies will work well together, which is undoubtedly true. These folks are all pros.
Unfortunately, it’s a short-lived arrangement. County Council will put up some money for this year, but probably not next year. Some council members say, correctly, that if they do this for one municipality, the rest will soon ask for similar treatment. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. It would help to have the Sheriff’s Office involved in school security permanently, and it would also spread the cost around.
Expect the city to make that argument next year. Otherwise, this all amounts to the school district stirring up the county to strong-arm the city in order to get parents off its back. Which worked.
It’s hard to blame parents for wanting a greater police presence in schools. Politicians won’t do anything to stem gun violence, so we need all the boots on the ground we can get. But political inaction on the national level comes with a very real cost, as local taxpayers are about to learn.
They say you can’t put a price on safety, but they can certainly bill you for it.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com.