Townville Elementary.jpg (copy) (copy)

Townville Elementary has put in place several security measures since the fatal shooting in September 2016, including adding a resource officer that patrols the school. Grace Beahm Alford/Staff/File

COLUMBIA — It's past time for South Carolina to have a certified officer in every school statewide but the Legislature must foot the bill, education and law enforcement officials told a House panel Wednesday. 

"If you don't, it's just smoke and mirrors," said Maj. Dwayne Robinson Sr., a Chester County deputy and vice president of the state Association of School Resource Officers. 

The subcommittee is trying to craft legislation aimed at preventing a massacre like last month's shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that killed 17 and injured 17 others. Don't study it yet again; fund it, legislators were told.

Robinson said the Legislature has shelved recommendations from the two state study committees he's worked on since 2015. 

"Everybody believes school resource officers are our first line and best line of defense," State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel said. "We’ve studied this problem to death. We also know it costs money. ... Whether districts are rich or poor, funding has to be provided." 

He estimated the cost at $60 million.

There are more than 1,200 schools statewide. Districts have pieced together funding through grants and local taxes to pay for some officers but hundreds of schools statewide either share an officer or lack any. 

He and others pointed to a 1995 law that was supposed to put hand-held metal detectors in schools and safety coordinators in district offices, but the Legislature never funded it. Twenty-three years later, proposals before the panel include requiring at least one officer per school — or one per 500 students in large schools — and requiring a walk-through metal detector at every public entrance.

"Perhaps we need to start by funding what we have on the books," said Kevin Wren, Rock Hill schools' security director, who questioned the cost and effectiveness of mandating metal detectors. 

He also dismissed the idea of mandating a full-time employee in every school whose sole duty would be monitoring campus video surveillance, saying the state needs to help fund cameras first. Also, it would be too easy for that person to get distracted, Robinson said.

"They’re watching soap operas and other things because they’re bored," he said.

None of the speakers supported a proposal allowing designated school employees to carry a concealed weapon after they complete a one-week training course from the Criminal Justice Academy. 

Its sponsor, Rep. Philip Lowe, R-Florence, said he agrees officers would be a better defense and believes students' safety is worth funding. But if legislators don't put it in the budget, having a trained volunteer on campus who could respond is better than the alternative, he said. 

The panel only took testimony. The goal is to craft legislation that incorporates pieces of various proposals and figure out a way to pay for it, said Rep. Raye Felder, the panel's chairwoman.

"We heard you loud and clear, don't mandate it until we fund it," said Felder, R-Fort Mill.  

Follow Seanna Adcox on Twitter at @seannaadcox_pc.

Assistant Columbia bureau chief

Adcox returned to The Post and Courier in October 2017 after 12 years covering the Statehouse for The Associated Press. She previously covered education for The P&C. She has also worked for The AP in Albany, N.Y., and for The Herald in Rock Hill.