He is a special agent of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and a member of the DeKalb County Board of Education from the fourth district, but Billy Miller addressed the county commission Thursday night as a parent asking them to consider funding more school resource officers.
"I am an elected school board member but I have two boys that mean the world to me and that's why I'm here. I think it is my duty as a parent and as a citizen of this community to make sure that I do the best that I can by my kids and I know that's what every one of you want," said Miller.
While the county already has an SRO at the high school, Miller said he believes there needs to be at least one school resource officer in each of the other four schools as well.
Smithville Police officers have recently made it a practice of visiting schools in the city at random times during the school day. Miller said while that is good, it doesn't take the place of having an SRO at the schools who would be there at all times during the day. "A school resource officer is not just a police officer that you put into a school system. Its totally separate," said Miller.
"I think it's a good thing that the city has been out there and they've had officers out there. I think that's a great idea. The only thing with that is if a guy (shooter) is going to do you harm, he's going to wait until that officer leaves. A very few of any of your school involved shootings come from some random guy off the street. Its somebody who has taken time and studied the school and studied the movements of the teachers or knows that he can get to the path of least resistance. If you have a guy (officer) over here at Northside Elementary School for a day and then he's at the West School the next day, they (shooters) are going to figure out that pattern. I think its beneficial for every school to have one (SRO). The guy (shooter) in New Town Connecticut, he went to a school he was familiar with because his mother had taught there before. But when he was challenged by the police, he took his own life. An SRO is not going to take care of everything but used in the right manner he can greatly decrease the issues that may happen at the schools," he said.
Miller said statistics show that a vast majority of school shootings arise from domestic issues at home. But if an SRO in the school can get to the root of the problem before hand, he could perhaps prevent a tragedy. "eighty percent of all issues that come in school shootings are domestic issues. They start at home some way," said Miller. " That's where having an SRO on a daily basis that knows students can affect a student. There are examples (elsewhere) where an officer has picked up on a kid, pulled him aside, talked to him and found out if there is any kind of issue going on at home. It can save a lot of these tragedies from happening. By having an officer there all the time, every day, they know the kids. But it takes a unique personality for that. Not every officer can go in there and be a true mentor at the elementary and high school level," said Miller.
Once established in a school, Miller said SRO's gain the trust of students. "A kid confides in an SRO and might tell him if they know of a gun in somebody's locker. Its pro active policing basically. If you can stop a crime before it ever happens, you're way ahead of the game and that's what SRO's do. They are there to get that familiarity with the kid and gain his trust," said Miller.
SRO's must be certified by the state's Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Commission and are required to have a certain amount of training, according to Miller. "State law says that an SRO shall participate in 40 hours of basic training in school policing within 12 months of being assigned to the school. Every year thereafter a minimum of sixteen hours of training is required specific to school policing," said Miller.
Sheriff Patrick Ray, who was also at the county commission meeting added, "You can't hire someone off the street. He must have two years experience (as a law enforcement officer)," he said.
When asked about the cost, Sheriff Ray said the first year would be the most expensive. It would be $55,000 per officer to get them started like any officer. That's for their uniforms and everything to equip them plus the training," he said. The cost would then just be their salary for every year thereafter which would vary depending upon where the officers fall in the county's four tiered wage scale for the sheriff's department.
In addition to SRO's, Miller said the school system is looking at other ways to enhance security. "We've got a bricks and mortar study coming up so hopefully we can see how we can keep them (school visitors) from just coming in, a way where they would have to come in through a certain door to a room and then have to show an ID," said Miller. "We're looking at upgrading cameras in the school system. Mr. (Mark) Willoughby has looked at that. Sumner County has a really neat program and I think it would be very effective for us as well. They have an interactive program with their cameras in the school system where at the main office, you can look (view monitors) and see any school at any point and time to see if something is going on. Its not that costly to do. Not with today's technology. And if you're an officer and have a wireless access at school, if you pull up on the scene you might be able to see where that guy (troublemaker or shooter) is at in the school," said Miller.
"Charlie Parker (DeKalb Emergency Management Agency Coordinator and Smithville Fire Chief) came up with the idea of having blue prints of the schools made as an interactive map so that if you do have officers that need to respond, you can get on line and see the outline of the school buildings. There's officers who have never been in the school system and that would be helpful to them," said Miller.
"If we combine all these efforts, its going to greatly decrease someone coming in and harming our kids and kids in a safer environment are going to learn better," said Miller.
Although no vote could be taken because it was only a committee meeting, County Mayor Mike Foster later asked the county commissioners for their input on the issue. "I know this is way, way early and we've got a lot of things to talk about concerning the budget but what are your feelings about the in-school officers? Do we need to get more information and work on it? What's your thinking?
The commissioners made no commitments but most seemed receptive to at least obtaining more information.