(Posted Sept. 28, 2022)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
London City Schools could soon be the second school district in Madison County with a school resource officer (SRO) on campus. Madison-Plains Local Schools welcomed their first SRO at the beginning of this school year.
Rich Hays, a London city councilman, recently summed up the purpose of a school resource officer as “a deterrent to any violent crime and to promote school safety by building a positive school climate in which everyone feels safe and students are supported to succeed.”
On Sept. 13, the London school board passed a memorandum of understanding that will come before city council on Oct. 6. The plan calls for the London Police Department to assign an officer to work full-time at the schools as an SRO starting in January 2023. In exchange for those services, the school district would pay the city the equivalent of 75 percent of an entry-level officer’s salary and benefits.
London Police Chief Glenn Nicol said the officer assigned to the schools would be an experienced officer who is already on staff. That person would work full-time at the schools during the school year then fall back into regular city patrol duties in the summers. While at the schools, the officer would be uniformed and armed. By Ohio Revised Code, all SROs must complete special training within a year of being appointed.
Nicol is requesting that city council approve an increase in staffing levels for his department by one officer to account for the SRO being restricted to the school campus for most of the calendar year. That request will come before council on Oct. 6.
As for why the school district wants an SRO on campus, Superintendent Dr. Lou Kramer said, “When the school board met in July, one of the priorities they established was enhancing safety and security. This is one of the strategies to meet that goal.”
Kramer said school leaders have discussed for several years the possibility of having an SRO on campus. They held off until now in hopes of securing grant funding to cover the cost.
“There are several safety grants we are pursuing through the state, but they are only for equipment. We thought, instead of waiting any longer, we would move forward,” he said.
Kramer said the SRO would serve as a liaison for students, faculty and administrators on all security matters. The officer would conduct a daily threat assessment, perform perimeter checks for each building, serve as the key person for safety drills, help staff to debrief, and revise and submit the district’s safety plan to Homeland Security and the Department of Education, among other duties.
Over the summer, Madison-Plains Local Schools hired John Higgins, a former Hilliard police officer with more than 30 years of experience, to serve as the district’s full-time SRO.
“It is going very well. He has meshed very well with our staff and our students,” said Superintendent Chad Eisler.
In the arrangement being forged between London City Schools and the city of London, the SRO will be a city employee. Madison-Plains took a different approach, hiring their SRO as a school district employee who has been given a deputy commission by the Madison County Sheriff’s Office. He is uniformed and armed as a sheriff’s deputy. He is compensated with the salary and benefits of a full-time, experienced school employee.
As for why the district decided to add an SRO to the staff, Eisler said, “Just as we looked around the country and what is happening, safety and security is very important to us. It’s our top priority. We thought this is a step that we should take at this point in time.”
Jefferson Local Schools and Jonathan Alder Local Schools do not have SROs.
William Mullett, superintendent of Jefferson Local Schools, said the district does not have plans at this time for an SRO. Should the district consider it, he said they likely would need two officers to adequately cover the district’s two buildings.
“SROs are fairly expensive,” he said. “If we were ever going to look at it, we would need to see if it was affordable for us to do two of them.”
Mullett said the district enjoys a close relationship with the West Jefferson Police Department. Officers are on campus regularly for daily traffic control and conduct periodic run-throughs of the school buildings.
“We have a pretty strong police presence already,” he said. “We work together with the police department to keep (safety) plans updated so everyone knows what they’re doing and stays prepared.”
Dr. James Miller, superintendent of Jonathan Alder Local Schools, is new to the district and, as such, is still auditing the district’s safety and security measures. The idea of hiring an SRO has not been ruled out.
“There will be continued conversations about taking this route,” Miller said.