From Local 3 News: A Tennessee education organization is raising some alarms about a shortage of school resource officers, or SRO’s.
One third of schools in the state do not have a school resource officer assigned to them, according the Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teachers association in Nashville.
It’s leaving the state’s most vulnerable exposed, education advocates say they’re pushing for a solution in the new year.
“People have wanted to get away from actual police on campus,” said JC Bowman, the executive director for the Professional Educators of Tennessee. “I think it’s a bad, bad tactic.”
Of the 1,876 schools across the state, only 1,301 had a school resource officer, according to the data the organization cites.
At the same time, Tennessee schools saw more than 2,000 violent or potentially violent incidents, some that included weapons on campus.
“I think it’s important that the taxpayers and parents speak out and discuss who you want protecting your kids,” Bowman said.
Governor Bill Lee (R) laid out his 2023 budget proposal during his State of the State address Monday. Included in the proposal is nearly $50 million directed at school safety and the promise of a homeland security special agent being placed in every county across the state.
“Every single person has a role to play in school safety,” Lee said Monday night.
Bowman said he agreed with everything the governor had laid out during his speech, but was shocked at his emphasis on school safety officers over school resource officers.
School safety officers, or SSO’s, are non-sworn law enforcement officers with no arresting authority.
“Educators are not policemen,” said Bowman. “We are not a police force. Superintendents of schools have more than they can say grace over. They don’t need to be leading a police force.”
In Hamilton County, the sheriff’s office has struggled to retain school resource officers. Eleven schools currently do not have an SRO assigned to them.
“We have three HCSO SRD’s in Field Training and are expected to complete this training on or about February 21st,” a spokesperson said in an email to Local 3 News. “Currently, 11 middle/high schools do not have an SRD/SRO on campus as of today. However, that number will be down to eight campuses in a couple of weeks, if all three new SRD’s complete Field Training.”
All 50 SSO positions in the county are filled, however, according to a spokesperson for Hamilton County Schools.
“I say address the problem from a law enforcement standpoint,” said Bowman. “Let law enforcement be responsible for the policing of the schools.”