It’s going to take nearly $1 million to add 10 school resource officers to the ranks of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, according to figures compiled by law enforcement officials.
Ten additional SROs would take the total number to 16, which would be enough to have an officer stationed at each school in Washington County.
The initial cost associated with hiring 10 SROs totals $979,069, which works out to nearly $98,000 per officer. A little more than $41,000 covers an officer’s annual salary and benefits. The remaining costs are related to vehicle, weapons, uniform and other equipment.
Those totals were presented to the County Commission’s Safety Committee Tuesday night by Sheriff Ed Graybeal, who recommended commissioners agree to put the additional SROs in the budget, so the sheriff’s office can begin the hiring process.
After much discussion surrounding the funding of SROs, County Commissioner Pete Speropulos made a motion for the committee to approve the 10 SROs so it could move on to the Budget Committee.
The motion passed, with Commissioner Sam Humphreys abstaining from the vote.
Since it would take about eight to nine months for an officer to go through the hiring process and all of the necessary training to become an SRO, Graybeal said the earlier they start, the better.
“Is it going to be expensive? Yes, but I think that everybody around this table knows that one child’s life is worth it,” he said.
When asked about possible funding from the federal level, Mayor Dan Eldridge told commissioners he was told by Homeland Security officials that the county shouldn’t expect any federal funding for the SRO program.
In regards to whether there would be any assistance from the state level, Eldridge said he was not sure, as there is pending legislation that could go either way.
County Attorney John Rambo said the $979,069 total for additional SROs doesn’t include the cost that would be associated with shared funds that go to Johnson City.
“We’ve got an emotionally and politically charged issue, combined with a real sense of urgency. We know that. My concern is that this not lead to a knee-jerk reaction that doesn’t effectively address the concerns that we all have regarding school safety,” Eldridge said as he addressed the committee.
Eldridge added he wasn’t sure a “one-size-fits-all solution” is the best way for the county to go about adding additional security measures until the Board of Education perform a full assessment of its vulnerabilities and security needs.
“Having said that, regardless, it appears to me that the Washington County Board of Education should be taking the lead on this issue. As elected officials, they clearly have the responsibility for school safety. ... Let’s urge the school board to be diligent, give them time to thoroughly evaluate the security needs of our schools, because any way you look at it, we are going to spend a lot of tax dollars to address this matter. It’s our responsibility to ensure that that money is spent effectively,” Eldridge said.
Graybeal said the immediate response an SRO can provide in an emergency situation is invaluable, and Director of Schools Ron Dykes stressed the school board has done everything it can to look at additional security measures for each school, including adding two SROs this year.
“The board itself has taken the lead on adding additional SROs. With the sheriff’s help, we added two more this year. The intent was to deal with it as financially feasible as possible,” Dykes said.
Before making his motion, Speropulos said he believed it was the committee’s responsibility to pass the issue on to the Budget Committee based on public safety needs.
“A kid’s life is worth more than what we can afford to pay, and I feel like we as body here ... have to look at the safety aspects of it. We’ve had the sheriff come, we’ve had Director Dykes come, they have both given us their recommendations,” Speropulos said. “We need to look at it. The funding’s going to be hard. It’s not our responsibility at this committee to provide the funding, but it does need to be looked at.”