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Cost is high for school officers

BY EMILY MONTGOMERY

Legislation proposed that would mandate school resource officers in every public school in Virginia  would require more than  80 new positions in the greater Fredericksburg area at a cost of more than $8 million its first year.

Most localities already have  resource officers stationed in their high schools and some in middle  schools, but under the bill  would have to hire officers for elementary schools.

This cost could fluctuate depending on many factors, such as whether buildings that house multiple schools would need as many officers. It also assumes that these positions would necessitate new hires.

The calculation includes  the salary, benefits, equipment, training and vehicles needed for new employees.

There are several bills  mandating resource officers in each school, including one  introduced by Del. Mark Cole, R–Spotsylvania.  Similar bills filed in the Senate by Sens. Richard Stuart, R–Stafford and Creigh Deeds, D–Bath County were killed yesterday in the Senate Finance Committee.

Cole’s bill has not  been acted on in the House.

The fiscal impact report of Cole’s bill,  prepared by the state’s Department of Planning and Budget,  says that 1,046 new officers would need to be hired.  It estimates the cost in the first year at $133.9 million, with subsequent annual costs being about $72.2 million, not including costs for training and supervisor positions, which would add about $400,000.

The report states that currently the average state share of the cost for public education is about 55 percent, though this varies significantly by locality. If this were to continue, the state share of officer costs would be about $73.6 million the first year.

The area positions are spread between Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania County, Stafford County, Caroline County, King George County, Culpeper, Orange County, Louisa County, Fauquier County and Colonial Beach.

This cost would go down substantially after the first year, because it would  no longer include money for training, vehicles and equipment.

The average cost for the first year of one school officer in the region is about $93,500, and ranged between $58,000 in Colonial Beach to more than $120,000 in Stafford County. Most were between $80,000 and $100,000.

 Law enforcement officials also said that they do not typically put new deputies in schools. This would mean that usually, veteran officers would be assigned the school positions and that new employees would take their vacated positions.

“We require at least two years of law enforcement service and advanced tactical training for our school resource officer positions,” Culpeper Sheriff Scott Jenkins said.

Stafford would need the most new deputies. According to Bill Kennedy, public information officer of the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office, that county would need to hire 21 people at a cost of $129,740 per person for their first year. This would be a total of $2.7 million.

Spotsylvania would need to hire 17 new officers at $88,235 per person for a total of $1.5 million, according to Capt. Jeff Pearce.

Organizations representing police agencies in the state say more officers may be needed but that the decision should not be made  in Richmond.

“These decisions need to be made locally,” Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, said.

 She said that the safety of schools is one of their highest concerns, and that they are especially sensitive to the issue right now, but are troubled about it being a requirement.

 “A broad mandate is the concern,” she said.

 She also added that putting an officer in every elementary school probably is not the best use of resources.

 In elementary schools, nearly all  issues can be solved by the administration, making the officer’s job unnecessary, she said.

 She suggested that legislators wait for a recommendation from the newly appointed Governor’s School Safety Task Force, which is made up of several education, mental health and police experts.

 “We need to let that task force come up with a more balanced set of regulations,” she said.

 John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriff’s Association, said that his group would not take a position, but that “it’s an expensive step in the right direction.”

“I’m not sure if one size fits all,” he said, and also recommended that localities be able to make decisions based on their resources and need.

 The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia released a statement that they did not approve of the legislation.

“The over-policing of schools is a serious problem in America,” they said. “Scaling up police presence in schools can have unintended consequences and can damage learning environments.”

 Natatia Bledsoe, information officer for Fredericksburg police,  said that that department would not want to ask city council to fund officer because they think that putting full-time officers in schools would be a misuse of resources.

“We understand the desire to put an SRO in every school given the most recent shooting,” she said.

“We understand why people think it’s a good idea.”

However, she said, resource officers are for when the law is broken in the school, and that almost never happens at elementary schools, and rarely in middle schools.

 She said that she is “not entirely convinced that having an SRO in every school is going to solve the problem of threats from outside.”

Emily Montgomery: 540/374-5417

emontgomery@freelancestar.com

Here are the cost estimates for new officers in the Fredericksburg area: 

Spotsylvania County: 17 officers for a total of $1.5 million, according to Capt. Jeff Pearce.

Stafford County: 21 people at $129,740 per person, totaling $2.7 million, according to Public Information Officer Bill Kennedy.

Fauquier County:  14 positions, including one supervisor position, for a total of $1.5 to $2 million, according to Lt. James Hartman

Fredericksburg: Four school officers  at  $70,000 each,  and  two cars to be shared between the officers at $32,000 each, totaling $344,000, according to Fredericksburg Public Information Officer Natatia Bledsoe.

Caroline County: Four positions at for a total of $440,000. Superintendent Greg Killough said that this cost would be split between the police department and school board.

King George County: Four positions for a total of $380,000, according to Sheriff Steve Dempsey.

Orange County: Six new positions totaling $600,000, according to information from Gene Kotulka, director of student services, and Sheriff Mark Amos.

Louisa County: Three positions at $75,000 each, coming to $225,000, according to Maj. Donald Lowe.

Colonial Beach: Two new positions at about $58,000 each, coming to $116,000, according to Interim Chief of Police Bill Seay.

Westmoreland: Public officials did not return calls for information.

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