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June 12, 2014

GISD looking to add officers

GREENVILLE — There have been 74 shootings at public schools and universities since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012, according to research gathered from Everytown for Gun Safety.

The research included only guns that were discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds and documented in news reports.

To help increase protection for Greenville students, the Greenville Independent School District School Board of Trustees discussed ways to add more peace officers to the rotation next year during the Tuesday meeting.

“We need to add at least two more officers next year,” GISD Superintendent Don Jefferies said.

There are several options the district can take, from adding more officers through the current School Resource Officers (SRO) with the city, hiring commissioned peace officers, going through a school marshal program, an employee-carry program, or a school policy program. All have their strengths and weaknesses, according to Jefferies.

Currently, the cost of SROs is split 50/50 with the city and are an expensive option, Jefferies said.

“That’s costly,” he said. “I’m not sure what the city would do concerning cost.”

Jefferies said he would not prefer arming employees because he wants individuals who have not only extensive weapon training, but also are trained and experienced in handling delicate situations where children are involved.

“I think it’s important that we get trained, commissioned peace officers by whatever means necessary,” he said.

School board president Anne Haynes echoed Jefferies’ statement, and added the officers need to be able to work and communicate well with students.

“I want someone who is trained in not only how to handle a weapon, but also how to handle people,” she said.

There is currently a measure which allows for a school marshal program on campus. When the officer is around students, his/her weapon must be locked in a safe. Jefferies said that measure is counterintuitive because the officer needs to be armed in order to protect the students if an armed person attempts to break in.

“I think the next legislative session they need to change it because that’s idiotic,” he said. “Having somebody that’s armed and in the building is a deterrent.”

District 4 trustee Lesley Overstreet said she would like more time to fully investigate the different options the board has for increasing the amount of officers, including data of estimated cost and liability for each program.

“That will help me,” she said.

Jefferies said he is leaning toward a type of school board program hiring commissioned peace officers, which would give the district more control over the officers than it currently has.

“You could do it either way, but what we’re seeing is that most people are doing a school board,” he said, stressing the two SROs currently employed are doing an excellent job, but he desires something more cost-effective that still keeps a professional armed officer on campus. “Currently the two SROs cost $100,000. We could get three peace officers for that.”

The board is expected to make a decision on the measure in the July or August meeting.

“Bottom line is when we start school in August, I want more armed security or peace officers on campuses,” he said.

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