SLED: State licenses firm that will handle Chester schools security, does not train them

Chester County Sheriff's Deputy Calvin Carter is the SRO at Chester High School.
Chester County Sheriff's Deputy Calvin Carter is the SRO at Chester High School. aburriss@heraldonline.com

The private security company hired by Chester County schools to replace sheriff’s deputies as school resource officers is licensed and certified by the state, a State Law Enforcement Division spokesman said Tuesday, but the company itself – not SLED or the state Criminal Justice Academy – provides their training.

They are classified by the state as “security officers,” not police officers, SLED spokesman Thom Berry said, and they are not required to have the same level of training as deputies.

In a move that drew harsh criticism from Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood, the school district on Friday signed a contract with Defender Services of Columbia to provide 10 security officers – one for each of the district’s nine campuses, plus a supervisor. Currently, four deputies work the schools as school resource officers.

Schools leaders say their plan will provide safer schools for students and employees, but Underwood maintains security officers cannot provide the level of safety fully trained deputies do.

“Defender Services has strict guidelines of who qualifies to be a school security officer,” Superintendent Agnes Slayman said in a statement. “The company first looks locally for highly qualified individuals. Once all applications are reviewed and approved, the list of applicants is presented to principals.

“Our own principals will then be able to pick an officer who best matches the needs of a particular building. Principals want officers who will build strong personal relationships with students of all ages.”

Much of the training security officers receive is not state-mandated, Berry said, as it is for police officers, who must graduate from the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy.

“Defender Services will be responsible for the training and proficiency of its employees,” Berry said.

Schools officials have said that the security officers will be armed and have arrest powers.

The new security officers can detain people on campus, Berry said, but they have no authority anywhere else, so if a situation moves off a school campus, local law enforcement will have to handle the situation. Police officers have arrest powers anywhere in the state. The arrest powers are bestowed on the security officers by the company as the licensee, he said.

The new security officers will be mainly retired law enforcement or military, according to the school district, and they must be in good physical shape. They will be trained to handle active shooter and other situations.

To qualify to have arrest powers, a security officer must have a minimum of four hours of training, according to state guidelines. A security officer also must pass state testing to carry a weapon, Berry said.

A police officers, meanwhile, must have more than 500 hours of training before they can be certified, said Chief Deputy Robert Sprouse, the sheriff’s spokesman. Weapons-specific training includes 40 hours of training every three years and annual re-qualification.

The company and school district could mandate training above state minimums for security officers, Berry said, and school officials have said that will be the case.

Efforts to reach officials with Defender Services for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065

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