A state grant will double the number of school resource officers this year at Franklin County High School, where classes started Aug. 12.
The school previously had two school resource officers, one each from the county sheriff’s office and Rocky Mount Police Department. Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton wanted to increase law enforcement presence at the school following the 2018 Parkland, Florida, mass shooting, so he added two deputies to the school. However, they were not officially recognized as school resource officers. The deputies focused more on external dangers, rather than working inside the school as a liaison between school administrators and law enforcement, said Maj. Mike Bowman.
Overton expressed a desire last year to maintain that level of staffing but indicated it would be difficult without financial support. The state’s School Resource Officer/School Security Officer Incentive Grant Program provided a solution.
Through that program, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office received two grants for $42,322 to fund school resource officer positions. Grant recipients participate in a multiday training preparing them for roles in the schools.
“We were thrilled to be able to see that we were awarded two resource officers,” Bowman said.
The governor’s office announced the grant awards in June. Just under 90 were distributed throughout the state. The Rocky Mount Police Department was also a recipient. Assistant Town Manager Matt Hankins said in an email it would fund the continuation of a position, rather than a new one.
“These additional positions will increase the number of SROs in Virginia by 10 percent,” Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said in a statement.
School resource officers are permanently stationed at the county’s middle and high school, but not the elementary schools. Hankins said Rocky Mount has one SRO who roams between a number of schools in town, including elementary schools. And Bowman said sheriff’s deputies visit elementary schools daily.
“The sheriff sees that we need to have security in all these schools,” Bowman said. “The problem is funding.”
He said the high school and middle school were given priority because incidents are more likely to occur among that age group. The size of the high school, a sprawling campus with around 2,000 students, was also a factor.
The trio of sheriff’s office SROs at the high school will rotate between working inside and outside the school, Bowman said. That means watching for external threats at some times and building relationships with teens at others.
“Their duties will change weekly so they don’t get stagnant in what they’re doing,” he said. “They’ll always have a different challenge.”