By Greg Bird
Under a new law passed this year by the Kentucky Legislature school districts across Kentucky are looking to strengthen their school safety by hiring more School Resource Officers (SRO).
The McCreary County School District has been ahead of the curve, already employing five SRO’s and considering hiring a soxth.
But with Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Senator Max Wise, taking effect by the start of the school year, there may be some changes in how SRO’s are handled in McCreary County.
Senate Bill 1 calls for school districts to hire more school resource officers and mental health counselors as funding becomes available, improved training for law enforcement officers hired as resource officers and staff tasked with leading school-based security teams, the creation of a state school security marshal, and more stringent building and classroom protocols to make it more difficult for intruders to enter schools, among other things.
One of the requirements under the new law is for Boards of Education to have Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) with local law enforcement – outlining how the agencies will work together to provide SRO’s for the local school district.
Most school districts in Kentucky utilize deputies from the County Sheriff’s Department or City Police officers as SRO’s, with some districts reimbursing the local law enforcement agency for salaries and benefits. This relationship is beneficial to both parties as the SRO’s come under the bond of the Sheriff or Police force, and the officers are fully sworn officers – with all the power and responsibilities as a deputy on patrol. The bond is a surety taken out by the Sheriff as his office is held liable for any acts or omissions by deputies under his command.
The McCreary County School District chooses to employ the SRO’s directly, as opposed to using sworn officers from city or county agencies (as do many other districts). SRO’s in McCreary County are full employees of the District, receiving their salary and benefits from the District. Until this change in law the SRO’s were covered by the Sheriff’s bond.
The McCreary County Board of Education met in special session Thursday night to work out details of a new (MOU) with Sheriff Randy Waters – reflecting the changes in the law.
While the MOU outlined the agreement, some members of the Board raised concerns over a certain clause in the agreement that would allow the Sheriff to request the Superintendent to release the SRO’s for use in emergency situations.
Superintendent Corey Keith said the request would have to be approved through him and he would not do so unless there was a severe threat to the community. The Board did opt to add a clause to the agreement that would allow for a SRO to be used in an emergency as long as no school campus remained uncovered.
With the change the MOU was approved by the Board unanimously and sent to Sheriff Waters for his signature.
This week Sheriff Waters stated he had concerns with the document, as he would carry the liability for the SRO’s with no authority of how they operated, or even who was hired.
If he is unable to secure a change to the MOU absolving him of the liability, he stated he would probably refuse to sign it – effectively pulling his bond from the officers.
If the Sheriff does not agree to the MOU, and opts to pull his bond from the officers, the District can still operate SRO’s as Special Law Enforcement Officers (SELO). SELO’s are sworn law enforcement officers, with all the powers of a standard officer – but their authority is limited only to the property they were hired to protect. The Kentucky State Police utilizes SELO’s as Capitol Police in Frankfort – for example.