BY JAMES HARPER
There are no school resource officers at any of Volusia County’s elementary schools due to budgetary constraints.
At least one area elementary school principal is calling for beefing up security at all schools in the wake of the massacre that took place last Friday in Newtown, Conn.
Turie T. Small Elementary Principal Earl Johnson told the Daytona Times this week that children need to feel safe in their schools.
School resource deputies from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office currently are placed at high schools with some of the officers splitting their time at some. There are no full-time officers at the middle schools, said Gary Davidson, Volusia County Sheriff’s Office spokesman. And there have never been officers at the elementary school level.
Davidson said Sheriff Ben Johnson wishes he could increase the number of officers at area schools but money isn’t in the budget.
Because of budget cuts, the sheriff’s office had to scale back the number of officers at the schools.
Davidson said cutting school resource offices was the only option because the department had to maintain a certain number of officers for core services, patrol, investigation and security at court facilities.
He also said the sheriff’s office receives funds from the Volusia County Council for staffing, which means the county will have to come up with additional funds if they want resource officers at the county’s more than 60-plus schools.
28 to 14
There are 14 school resource deputies, which are paid for out of school district coffers.
At one time, there were 28 school resource deputies. When the sheriff office’s budget was cut, the department was no longer able to pay for the 14 additional officers at the schools.
“We had to withdraw our portion of funds due to budget cuts,” Davidson said.
There are 66 schools in the county plus another 12 charter schools. The county would need approximate 60 officers hired to make sure all Volusia schools have deputies on duty, which would cost an additional $5 million more a year.
Presently, $1 million is allocated for the 14 current officers working at high schools. It would be up to elected officials to find the money.
Davidson said if Volusia County schools want school resource officers at all the schools, they also should consider officers coming from area cities, which would pay for those officers.
Attempts were made by the Daytona Times to reach Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood and spokesman Jimmie Flynt. Neither responded to requests for information by the Times’ deadline Wednesday night.
Good role models
“If we are going to put education as a priority. We need to put our money where our mouth is. For our kids to be successful, our kids need to feel safe. They need to feel more secure,” said Johnson.
“Kids that have that anxiety who know what happened in Connecticut will be more at ease,” Johnson said.
Johnson also believes law enforcement presence on campuses would be good role models for the students.
“They (kids) will have a positive feeling about law enforcement – knowing he or she is here to protect us. They will be mentors to kids. It will change false ideas kids have about law enforcement,” Johnson continued.
Johnson said it is not uncommon for a school to go on lockdown if criminal activity is occurring nearby. Having school resource officer on campus makes a difference – assuring the students that they are safe when lockdowns occur, he explained.
He added that students practice safety drills on a regular basis.
Reassurance from superintendent
Volusia County Superintendent of Schools Margaret Smith recorded a phone call that was delivered Monday morning to parents assuring them “our school district has taken all of the steps that we can to keep our students safe” after learning about the massacre in Connecticut.
Smith said prior to all Volusia County schools opening Monday morning officials had reviewed all of their safety and security procedures and put additional measures in place.
“We know today (Monday) is an emotional day for you and your students following the tragedy that occurred in Connecticut on Friday. Our hearts go out to the Sandy Hook Elementary School families and community,” Smith’s recording announced.
“All principals are at their schools reinforcing safety best practices. And, with the cooperation of our county and municipal law enforcement agencies, we have increased police presence on and around our campuses,” Smith stated.
Smith also noted that counselors at each school were available to meet with students, parents and staff.
Johnson said he was devastated like everyone else when he heard “innocent students were massacred.”
The principals said he could only speculate what could lead someone to do something like this.
“Guns don’t kill people – people kill people. That kid has had problems since he was young,” Johnson said.
“It takes a village to raise a kid. It is schools, churches, parents, neighbors – all are responsible to help guide kids. We are waiting on someone else to do it. Let’s not be oblivious to concerns and issues kids are dealing with. Let not turn our head. We know little John has an issue,” Johnson related.
Johnson also said he is concerned about what his students are being exposed to via TV, movies, Internet and video games.
“We should be able to monitor what we expose our kids to at a vulnerable age. It’s not a reality to them. All these horrific incidents that are occurring are just not reality to them,” Johnson concluded.