Liberty County commissioners and board of education members have signed off on an agreement that will put school resource officers at five of the county’s schools.
Under the agreement, the school system will pay for the deputies, who will be stationed at Bradwell Institute, Liberty County High School, Midway Middle School, Lewis Frasier and Snelson-Golden Middle School. There also will be a sergeant and lieutenant supervising the program.
“Everything we do with the SRO is designed to support this county and take care of our kids,” Sheriff Will Bowman told county commissioners.
The sheriff ’s office will provide a deputy to be a SRO at Liberty Elementary School. The SROs at Lewis Frasier and Snelson- Golden middle schools will stop by the adjacent elementary schools, Frank Long and Joseph Martin, respectively.
“As the program grows, the goal is to have one SRO at each school,” Sheriff Bowman said.
The sheriff said those who wish to do harm at a school or cause a disruption may opt not to do so after seeing a sheriff ’s office cruiser in front of the school “We want to deter everybody who comes to our school system,” he said. “Even if they see that car parked out front, that will change their mind.”
Dr. Zheadric Barbra, deputy schools superintendent, said benefits of the program include having officers to respond quickly at incidents at schools, and students also get to interact with law enforcement in a more positive manner.
The program cost is approximately $694,000. “We want to do everything in our power to keep our children safe,” board chair Verdell Jones said. “We don’t want our kids to come to school and to be afraid to do that.”
The sheriff ’s office is contemplating putting into place the CHAMPS (Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety) program.
Chief Deputy Al Hagan said the sheriff ’s office has taken seasoned deputies to undergo the SRO training.
“You can’t just take a new officer and put them in a school system,” he said. “The most valued resource is our kids.
We wanted to make sure we took the best people to train.”
Hagan said the SROs will be trained to act and react and not to overreact. Their presence in the schools, and the hope they will get to know the students, will help when responding. Hagan said a student whose action requires a SRO’s response may be acting out of crisis.
“We will make this school system as safe as possible and mentor them,” he said. “There will be times when law enforcement action will have to be taken but we will make sure proper judgement will be used.”
SROs also will accompany the middle school and high school athletic teams for road games and will be on duty as deputies during the summers.
In order to put a SRO at the Riceboro pre-k center, a separate agreement with the Coastal Georgia Community Action Authority must be reached, Sheriff Bowman said. The pre-k center has a state-of-theart security system, he said, but “there is nothing better than seeing a police car out front to deter someone.”
The sheriff added he will approach the school system about a SRO for the system’s pre-k center in the future.
“I think it’s something we need to consider,” said Commissioner Gary Gilliard.