Montgomery County leaders discuss adding school resource or security officers

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) Thursday, Feb. 14, will mark the one year anniversary since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Since then, school safety has been a hot topic for debate throughout the country, including Virginia.

There are two bills in the General Assembly, that if passed, would allow school divisions to hire its own school security officers, which are different than school resource officers.

"A school security officer will not be employed by the sheriff," Montgomery County Sheriff Hank Partin said. "An SRO obviously is a deputy first before they ever become a school resource officer."

In Montgomery County, there's a school resource officer at every middle and high school. However, there's only one officer for two out of the 10 elementary schools.

Sheriff Partin wants to change that ratio.

"I think the elementary schools actually need the SROs more than the other schools do," Partin said.

Supervisor Steve Fijalkowski said elementary schools are low-risk targets, but he agrees on the importance of SROs.

"To me the ideal situation would be to put an SRO in every school including elementary, but it may not be practical and it may not be what the school division really needs," Fijalkowski said.

That's because funding an SRO for every elementary school is the most expensive option on the table. A cheaper option is school security officers, which is why the board of supervisors is waiting to find out whether or not the General Assembly will pass House Bill 2721 and Senate Bill 1023.

"The biggest issue is, can the General Assembly pass a bill that will allow recently retired police officers to work part-time in the schools, whether they're SRO's or school security officers," Fijalkowski said.

While county leaders agree that adding an officer to every school in the county would be ideal, Fijalkowski said the Board of Supervisors needs to determine what the school really wants and needs.

"If [the General Assembly] goes with strictly a school security officer, and our school division doesn't want to go in that direction, then I'd say it's probably a non-starter, so we'll have to back to looking at SROs."

He added that there are other ways the county can improve school security.

"There have been plenty of attacks where people have died, even though there was a resource officer in the school and that's why I go back to saying, it's a comprehensive approach that you have to take," Fijalkowski said.

However, according to Sheriff Partin, "If the bad guy's around, there's only one thing that's going to stop the threat and that's us."

Depending on which way the General Assembly votes will determine if and how much money the Board of Supervisors will add to the school's or sheriff's budgets.

The SRO program at two of the elementary schools is finishing its first experimental year and has seen a lot of success.