Last Modified: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 10:17 AM
OBERLIN — The Allen Parish School Board agreed Monday to pursue placing specially trained law enforcement officers on all public school campuses.
Sheriff Doug Hebert III presented plans to place school resource officers (SRO) on all 11 campuses for the “safety and security” of children. The officers would be present during the school day and for after-school activities, including sporting events, dances and meetings.
“We want to minimize the possibility of something happening by having deputies in the schools,” Hebert said, noting that 54 percent of the school violence happens in places with populations under 50,000. “Seventy percent occur at schools ... that’s Allen Parish.”
Schools are an easy target for violence, he said.
“Our objective is to place officers in every school in order to provide for safety, security and an orderly learning environment,” Hebert said.
Hebert said the officers would respond to minor and major disturbances and offenses on campus.
“Having SROs in the schools would reduce the likelihood of campus violence because the officers could intervene quickly and provide a rapid response,” Hebert said.
In addition to protecting the school, the SROs could also spend time with students, help with truancy, anti-bullying and anti-drug programs and also be involved in the school’s crisis planning and preparation. They would also be first aid and AED trained to render medical aid.
Hebert wants the School Board to call an election for May 4 to provide funding for the SRO program in all schools. If approved by voters, the program could go into effect in January 2014, he said.
“We looked at every scenario possible and the Allen Parish Sheriff’s Office can’t do it by ourselves,” Hebert said. “If we could, we would have already been doing it.”
Hebert estimates the program will cost $500,000 a year to include vehicles and equipment. Additional personnel would be hired for the positions, he said.
Officials are eyeing a 10-year, 6- to 8-mill millage to provide a SRO for each school. Any surplus funds would be used for surveillance cameras, magnetic doors and other school safety upgrades, Hebert said.
A 6.7 mill would cost a property owner $3.50 a year under homestead exemption, Lt. Robert Turner said.
The School Board has until March 19 to place the measure on the May 4 ballot.
“I think in this day and time we have to explore every opportunity to keep our kids safe and let the teachers teach,” School Board president and retired educator Carolyn Manuel said. “Just their presence is going to deter anyone who wants to come in and do harm.”
If approved, the School Board would enter into a joint service agreement with the sheriff’s office to hire the resource officers.
“I think it will be difficult for anyone to be against the millage. Even if you don’t have children in school, how can you say you don’t need this to keep children safe?” Hebert said.
There has been more of a public awareness on SROs since the Sandy Hook school shooting, School Superintendent Michael Doucet said.
“School resource officers would be an asset to our school system or any school system, but funding an ongoing program as such is the tough hurdle to jump,” Doucet said.
None of the present budgets of the School Board, district attorney or sheriff’s office could possibly absorb the cost of the program, Doucet said.
“However, we have the responsibility to evaluate the situation and make the best decisions with our resources for making our schools as safe as possible,” Doucet said.
Principals and administrators are also assessing procedures and practices to improve student safety in all schools, including security safeguards and practices, entry control where possible, staff training for emergency management, intruder awareness by staff and others, he said.