Chester school officials defend dropping deputies for security guards

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.

Chester County school officials on Monday defended their decision to hire private security guards to replace sheriff’s deputies, saying having a guard at each of the district’s nine campuses would provide greater safety than the current corps of four school resource officers.

Superintendent Agnes Slayman on Friday hired Defender Services of Columbia, a private contractor, to provide the nine guards and a supervisor.

“Right now, our four officers cannot possibly cover all nine school sites simultaneously,” school board chairwoman Denise Lawson said in a statement issued Monday by the school district. “Using the 10 officers from Defender Services gives us an extra peace of mind.”

Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood criticized the move again on Monday, saying it will make children less safe.

“I have been in law enforcement for 30 years, and I have never known anyone to call 911 and ask for a security guard,” Underwood said in a statement Monday. “It saddens me to know that Dr. Slayman and the Board of Trustees are attempting to give their staff and members of this community a false sense of security.”

The school district’s statement included comments from several principals, stating their belief that their schools will be safer with a security guard of their own.

“We are delighted to have a full-time security officer in our building (for the first time ever) to ensure the safety of our students which will enhance the success of academics,” Chester Park School of the Arts Principal Anne Stone said in the statement.

The security guards, which have not been hired, will be “former military personnel, state troopers, retired law enforcement, etc.,” the district said, and will be trained to handle school security and complete both written and performance tests.

Before reporting for duty, the district said, the guards will receive training in “basic response, active shooter training, dealing with people, record keeping and reporting, fixed posts and patrols, understanding the law, enforcing the law, preventing and controlling fires, enforcing rules and controlling areas, handling special situations and emergencies, and first aid and safety.

“These uniformed officers will carry firearms and have the power to arrest and detain and must be in good physical condition to perform their duties,” the district said in the statement. “Security officers will also receive D.A.R.E. training and will work closely with school officials to cover specific needs of specific buildings.”

The guards also will be trained throughout the year by a “regional security manager,” whom the school district identified as a “28-year retired (sergeant) with the Highway Patrol.”

Underwood remained unimpressed Monday, telling The Herald Monday that he has heard from dozens of upset parents over the weekend.

“Not a single person has told me they support this decision,” Underwood said. “I do wish them the best and hope their ‘big plan’ is successful and provides a safe environment for the students and staff of the Chester County school district.”

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065

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