Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page wants well-trained armed volunteer resource officers protecting every North Carolina public school.
“The time for action is now,” Page said during a Feb. 28 news conference at the Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office.
Legislators, law enforcement agencies, and educators are searching for a means of preventing future school shootings. After the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead, Page saw the need to harden school security.
A state law passed in 2013 enables school districts to set up a program allowing volunteers to protect schools. Rockingham County would become the first in North Carolina to establish one.
Page has been Rockingham County sheriff since 1998. He was joined at the press conference by Rockingham County Schools Superintendent Rodney Shotwell, Speaker of the House Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.
Rep. Kyle Hall, R-Rockingham, and Sen. Ronald Rabin, R-Harnett, were also at the news conference.
“I’m tired of seeing all the school violence and shootings in this country,” Page said. “These type of incidents can happen anywhere and anytime and you can’t predict an event, but we can prepare for these type of scenarios.”
Page proposed setting up a volunteer school resource officers program that would provide any school without an officer on staff a well-trained and armed SRO volunteer. In Rockingham County many elementary schools have no dedicated SRO. Often, several schools share an officer.
After the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, the General Assembly passed the 2013 School Safety Act. Not only did the law increase funding for SROs and panic alarms, it also opened the door for volunteer SRO programs. Sheriffs and local boards of education could reach an agreement to provide volunteer school resource officers to any school without an officer.
Only experienced, sworn law enforcement officers or military police could volunteer for the program. Volunteers would be under the direct supervision of a sheriff or chief officer, and could make arrests if necessary.
Even with the General Assembly’s OK, though, no school district has set up a volunteer SROs program. “This bill was passed by legislature in 2013, but now in 2018 we can’t wait for another tragic event or the loss of even one child’s life,” Page said.
The program is still in the early stages and needs approval from the Rockingham County school board before going forward. It’s unclear how much funding will be needed and where it will come from.
“If we are successful, we have the opportunity to establish a model and template for the rest of North Carolina to follow so other school districts can protect their schools and children,” Page said.
Page doesn’t see the volunteer SROs program as the only solution to preventing school violence or shootings. Full-time, paid SROs in every school or funding for more school counselors also were mentioned during the news conference.
“I think this is the right step to take,” Berger said of the sheriff’s proposal. “It is one of many that will likely need to be taken.”
Moore, who in late February named members of a special House committee on school safety, said the program offers another piece to the puzzle of making schools safer.
“We know it’s not one thing. We know it takes a combination of mental health issues, criminal justice, it’s hardening the targets and the schools, making them safer from shooters,” Moore said. “It’s a combination of approaches that are going to be necessary to make sure our students are as safe as they can be.”