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Speaker Howell proposes new funding for elementary school resource officers

House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Stafford, and House Republican leaders today said they’ll propose budgeting grant money to help put school resource officers in elementary schools.

Their announcement comes in the wake of last Friday’s school shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults.

“The tragedy in Connecticut is heartbreaking. As the Newtown community begins a healing process that will last longer than we can ever imagine, our thoughts naturally turn to our own children,” Howell said in a written statement. “We must look closely at everything we can to make sure our children, schools and communities are safe. This includes evaluating school safety, our mental health laws and services, and our gun laws.”

Howell — along with House Majority Leader Del. Kirk Cox and Del. Beverly Sherwood, who heads up the House Appropriations committee’s public safety subcommittee — said their proposal would expand the existing grant program currently used to fund school resource officers in middle and high schools. Howell called it “a critical step toward making sure all of our schools are as safe as possible.”

According to the Virginia School Resource Officer Program’s website, school resource officers are “the uniformed, armed and sworn officers and deputies of local police departments and sheriffs’ offices who are assigned, primarily, to Virginia’s middle and high schools.”

The program’s site said that ideally, a school resource officer “reports to a single school five days a week and spends 75% or more of his/her time on the grounds of this school.” A 2007 survey indicated that that was how most school resource officer positions operate, but that some agencies require their school resource officers to work at their schools for only part of the workday, and to do patrol or other duties as well.

The survey also showed that some school resource officers were assigned to multiple schools, while others were at schools with so many incidents that a lot of their time was spent in court or investigating school crimes.

In an annual school safety report, most recently filed for 2011, 513 schools reported having a school resource officer at the school all day, and a few of those had more than one. Many schools also reported having school security officers — which are different from resource officers — stationed at the school all day.

The annual safety reports don’t break down the number of school resource officers by locality. The 2007 survey did.

Among local divisions in the 2007 survey, Spotsylvania County had 12 school resource officers; Stafford County had seven; Culpeper County had five; Louisa and Orange counties had three; Fredericksburg, Caroline, King George and Westmoreland had two.