Ala. school district considers hiring more SROs after Texas shooting

An official worries elementary schools are becoming targets because they tend to have less security than high schools


By Wes Tomlinson
The Decatur Daily, Ala.

DECATUR, Ala. — Local school officials are considering hiring additional school resource officers and adding response resources after the nation's 27th school shooting of 2022 on Tuesday left 19 children and two teachers dead in Uvalde, Texas.

Decatur City Schools Deputy Superintendent Dwight Satterfield said it was "gut-wrenching" to hear the news about the deadly attack at Robb Elementary School.

"You always question, 'Are we doing enough? Are we tweaking the things that we need to based on lessons we learned?'" Satterfield said.

Satterfield is a member of the governor's school safety task force, which helps provide safety training to school systems across the state. He said after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newton Connecticut — which left 20 children and six staff members dead — the task force discussed installing metal detectors in all schools. He said more efforts should be taken.

"Schools are not like they used to be where kids were in school all day. They come and go," Satterfield said. "You can't just have metal detectors in the morning. It's going to be an all-day process. I think that's why you see a lot of these school shootings now because the protection has increased around your secondary schools since Columbine, but now elementary schools are targets because they tend to be a less stringent environment."

Satterfield said he is considering an effort to bring additional response resources to his schools.

[RELATED: The first five things an SRO should do]

"Some school systems have brought in retired police officers to work in their schools, and I've always been an advocate for SROs," Satterfield said.

There are currently eight school resource officers that monitor all 18 campuses in the Decatur system with some of them, rovers, monitoring several schools at once. Satterfield said he believes school resource officers must be specifically selected and highly trained on school policing.

"The school system has to have someone dedicated to ... working across those boundaries," Satterfield. "A lot of times when you see law enforcement in schools, you butt heads. It's different from the street; they have to develop relationships, they have to understand threat assessment, they have to understand the adolescent mind. They have to want to be there."

Authorities in Texas say the Uvalde gunman, Salvador Ramos, 18, crashed his truck into a concrete ditch near Robb Elementary about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. A school resource officer engaged with Ramos, who was carrying a rifle, and the gunman then engaged with two other officers from the Uvalde Police Department, CNN reported.

About 11:32 a.m., officers and Ramos exchanged gunfire outside the school before he went in a backdoor and moved through hallways and connected classrooms until he eventually entered one full of students, The Associated Press said. Authorities have not elaborated on how Ramos got past the initial officers.

West Decatur Elementary Principal Jennifer Edwards said she immediately thought of her students and her own children when she heard the news about the mass shooting Tuesday, but said she feels confident in Satterfield's efforts to keep the district safe.

"I teach my kids at West Decatur safety precautions in a way that they know what to do if something like that ever happens," Edwards said. "Anything can happen anywhere, but I can't say that we wouldn't be prepared."

Morgan County Schools Deputy Superintendent Lee Willis said it would be ideal to have a school resource officer assigned to every school building. Right now, they have nine spread out across the district.

"I'm frustrated that we can't do something better," Willis said. "We've got to take the time and effort to make sure we have SROs at our schools. I think we've gotten so caught up in other things. It's hard for a child to learn if they don't feel safe."

Willis said he plans on enhancing perimeter security across the district by making sure locks, exit devices, electronic access control systems and other hardware are working properly.

Rusty Bates, safety coordinator and director of transportation for Limestone County Schools, said the district has partnered with the Limestone County Commission to fund school resource officers in every school in the district.

Bates said he does not foresee changing security protocols for the district because of the school resource officers and the SafeDefend System the district installed six years ago.

"It's a box with a fingerprint-activated alarm on it and we have over 700 boxes, one for each classroom in every school," Bates said. "A teacher, employee, or faculty member can activate the system from any box in the entire campus. That box will activate the system and the system will activate sheriff's patrol. We don't have to wait for 9-1-1 and all that, it automatically activates within seconds."

A local law sponsored by state Sen. Arthur Orr, R- Decatur, and passed by the Legislature in 2019, reduced the Morgan County Commission's receipt of online sales tax from 100% to 5%, redirecting the bulk of the taxes to the three school systems in Morgan County.

Commission Chairman Ray Long said because of the law, local schools have the money now to fund positions like school resource officers and it is not the commission's responsibility.

"In the past, (school systems) have worked out agreements with the sheriff where they pay the sheriff and the sheriff hires people to be there," Long said. "Our job is to do everything else in the county as far as keeping roads up and parks up and our senior centers and our courthouse up. The school system gets tax money just like we do."

Willis said he believes the state, not individual school systems, should be solely responsible for funding school resource officers in every school in the state.

(c)2022 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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