S.C. House bill leaves local taxpayers on hook for police officers in schools

jself@thestate.comFebruary 27, 2013 

  • Unresolved issues Who should pay for officers in schools? • A House bill would place the cost on counties and municipalities. • A Senate bill would have the state pay. Supporters have released no details on how the state would afford that cost or distribute support statewide. • A House budget proposal includes money to help school districts improve safety, whether hiring officers of taking other steps. Treating districts fairly

    A recent S.C. Department of Education survey found that school districts with 1,140 of the state’s more than 1,300 schools currently employ the equivalent of 478 full-time police officers. The number of officers in each district varies widely, with most working in the state’s largest districts.

    Critics say it will be difficult to distribute money fairly to school districts and communities that already have taken varying steps to provide their own officers. Some districts would be unable to pay to hire any officers.

— A state House proposal to require armed police officers in every public school – at a cost estimated at $80 million a year – would be “devastating” to other law enforcement activities unless the state also provides money to pay for the added officers, a sheriff said Wednesday.

The requirement would force the Kershaw County sheriff’s office to hire more officers to work in schools, Kershaw Sheriff Jim Matthews told The State. Or deputies would have to leave other duties to work in schools, he said.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg, aims to increase security in public schools after December’s Newtown, Conn., school shooting. At a House subcommittee meeting Wednesday, Sellers said past school shootings have led to similar conversations. This time, he urged lawmakers to act.

“We have to do something before something bad happens,” he said.

But, critics say, Sellers’ bill provides no additional state money to pay for the officers, placing that burden on counties and municipalities. That concerns law enforcement officials who were at Wednesday’s hearing. The House panel took no action on the proposal but will take it up again at its next meeting.

The cost of putting an officer in every school could exceed $80 million, said Jeff Moore, director of the S.C. Sheriffs’ Association. If the state requires officers in every school, it should provide a way to pay for them, Moore added.

Whatever lawmakers decide, they need to consider arrangements that many communities already have made to put officers in schools, SLED Chief Mark Keel said.

Keel supports placing officers in every school, and some schools already have officers. But, he noted at Wednesday’s hearing, arrangements between local police and school districts – about how to staff schools with officers and who pays for them – differ across the state.

In Richland and Lexington counties, for example, the cost of school resource officers is split between sheriff’s departments and school districts.

In Kershaw County, 11 of 75 deputies already work as school resource officers, trained specifically to work in schools, Sheriff Matthews said. They are paid by the Sheriff’s Department, unlike in other counties where school districts help foot the bill.

Eight of those officers work full time in Kershaw’s middle and high schools, and three “float” among 11 elementary schools, according to a recent S.C. Education Department survey.

“If I had to take nine of my officers and put them in schools, it would be devastating to the rest of the law enforcement efforts in this county,” Matthews said.

Lexington County Sheriff James Metts said the cost of hiring more officers to work in schools would challenge his office, even if shared by school districts, and would take away from other services that his department provides.

The Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service