LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Details of a new security force at Jefferson County Public Schools are still being sorted out, but Superintendent Marty Pollio said Tuesday he’s confident that the school board will back his administration’s push to hire and train a team of officers to patrol schools.
The Jefferson County Board of Education discussed requirements of Senate Bill 1, the new school safety bill passed by the General Assembly this year, and the administration’s plan to employ 56 security officers by the 2020-21 school year during a work session Tuesday.
JCPS has ramped up efforts to come up with a plan for a new security team after the city’s budget pulled 17 school resource officers employed by Louisville Metro Police back into regular patrols. What’s more, SB 1 requires school districts to employ or contract with at least one school resource officer for every school in the district as funding and qualified job candidates come available.
The thorny issue of whether those officers should be allowed to carry guns on their patrols, which has divided some on the board, remains unresolved.
Kevin Brown, the district’s general counsel, said the board could require that officers hired to provide school security not carry firearms as a condition of employment. However, he later cautioned that conditions like what equipment officers carry or the uniforms they wear while on duty might run counter to what the officers are authorized to do under state law.
“I don’t know where that line is,” Brown said.
JCPS will have about a month to find that line as it solidifies the security proposal ahead of a board vote.
Pollio said the plan could be on the board’s agenda for its Aug. 27 meeting for its approval, and Diane Porter, the board’s chairwoman who represents District 1, said members could be asked to continue their discussion on the proposed policy in a special meeting before a vote is taken.
“Before a vote can be taken, all questions have to be answered,” Porter said.
Porter said she needed to hear from principals at schools in her district about their experiences before making up her mind on what a JCPS security detail should look like. Some schools in her district are surrounded by gang activity that creates “absolute horror and crime,” and JCPS needs to be prepared to handle situations that may arise near those schools, she said.
“I would like to know if the principals want somebody inside and somebody outside,” Porter said. “(Officers) can be inside with no arms at all, but there has to be somebody in the perimeter or in the area that can meet the needs.”
James Craig, who represents District 3, said that while he has “the greatest respect in the world” for law enforcement officers in Jefferson County, he does not want a JCPS security force to look like uniformed police or carry firearms while they’re patrolling schools.
JCPS is “a school district,” he said. “We’re not a police department.”
“My concern about arming our employees, be they SROs or otherwise, is just so great that I don’t know that I can support that,” Craig said.
While SB 1 is silent on whether school resource officers should be armed, Department of Criminal Justice Training Commissioner Alex Payne said the new law was written under the assumption that the officers would be armed.
Payne attended Tuesday’s work session to discuss the requirements laid out in SB 1 and said he did not know of any certified police officers in Kentucky who are unarmed as part of their official duties.
“That’s part of the training that they go to,” Payne said. “What is the right tool at the right time, and that firearm is one of those tools.”
The district’s proposal, as it stands, would move its nine in-house security monitors currently on night patrols into officer jobs in the opening weeks of the 2019-20 school year and eventually add seven more in January and 40 others ahead of the 2020-21 school year.
JCPS expects to spend $5 million on the plan as it’s written, but just $3.3 million will be new spending since the district will cut contracts with outside law enforcement agencies to provide resource officers, Pollio said. Mike Raisor, the district’s chief operations officer, said JCPS will recruit current and retired police officers to its security force if the plan gets board approval.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Pollio said he’s confident the school board will move forward with the plan to hire a JCPS security force.
But the proposal’s details will ultimately be up to the board, he said.
“Our board seems to be very supportive of the internal force,” Pollio said. “Clearly as you heard there’s a lot of questions about what specifically that means.”
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