Stanly County moving forward with program to have armed volunteer safety officers at schools

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 9, 2018

By Imari Scarbrough

Stanly News & Press

ALBEMARLE — Stanly County may become the first county in the state to allow armed volunteers to guard its schools through the Volunteer School Safety Resource Officer Program.

The county school board voted unanimously Tuesday night to authorize the sheriff to begin implementing such a program.

“It rips my heart out that we even have to do this kind of thing in the nation we live in, but by the same token, we can’t stick our heads in the sand,” Board of Education Chairman Melvin Poole said.

Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page said on Feb. 28 that he planned to begin the program in his county, according to reports by the Carolina Journal.

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, Page and Rockingham County School Superintendent Rodney Shotwell are trying to begin the program there next school year.

Stanly County Sheriff George T. Burris said he plans to begin Stanly’s program this year if possible.

Beginning before the school year is out will allow the Sheriff’s Office to fine-tune the program before school resumes in August, Burris said.

The Volunteer School Safety Resource Officer Program stems from a law passed after the Sandy Hook school massacre. The program was begun at the state level in 2014 and updated in 2017, according to a release from the Stanly County Sheriff’s Office.

Volunteer safety officers must have law enforcement experience or have served as a military police officer for at least two years. Military veterans must have been honorably discharged, Burris said. The Sheriff’s Office will run background checks on potential volunteers and will provide training, he said.

Part of the training will cover “research into the social and cognitive development of elementary, middle and high school children,” according to the release.

The Sheriff’s Office will provide the volunteers’ with uniforms.

Burris said four Stanly County schools do not have resource officers on campus. After an increase in attacks on schools the past few years, the recent mass shooting at a school in Florida and recent threats at Stanly County schools — some within the past two weeks — Burris said now is the time to act.

The four schools Burris named would serve as a pilot program as the Sheriff’s Office works to refine the program, he said. Visitors to the school will be warned that it is protected when they visit campus by signs.

The volunteers would be in contact with the Sheriff’s Office and organized by Burris and Capt. Caleb Stewart. The lead volunteer will be David Montague, a former law enforcement officer with 25 years of experience between the Stanly and Cabarrus county sheriff’s offices. The volunteers will be armed and will wear a polo shirt and battle dress uniform pants identifying them as being with the Sheriff’s Office.

They would have full arrest authority on campus, Burris said, but would not have jurisdiction away from the school.

Burris said during Tuesday’s school board meeting that he has two volunteers and afterward said he may have a third. He needs a minimum of four — one for each school — but said he hopes to get at least 12.

The volunteers would not be paid and will be expected to work a minimum of a two-hour block up to a full school day, Burris said.

Across the nation, hundreds of school districts have armed their teachers, according to The New York Times. President Donald Trump has also supported the idea. But Burris said he disagrees. He wants to see more firearms in schools, but not in teachers’ hands. Between instructing and otherwise caring for children, Burris said, they would simply be overwhelmed.

“I believe they have enough on their mind without a weapon on their side,” Burris said.

Maintenance workers, principals and administrative assistants could all qualify to carry a weapon if they meet the experience, vetting and training requirements.

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