MURFEESBORO, Tenn. (WSMV) – School safety is under the microscope in Rutherford County due to a shortage of school resource officers and the fact that the sheriff’s department is not included in school safety discussions.
Rutherford County is currently looking to fill nine open SRO positions that protect buildings across the county, Sheriff Mike Fitzhugh told county commissioners at a meeting this week. With these openings, the department must use supervisors to cover schools and rely on patrol officers to do things like window and door checks.
It comes at the same time county leaders are questioning why law enforcement isn’t part of the security conversation in planning major additions to five schools. These projects are needed due to population growth and will replace the temporary classrooms currently in use.
“We keep asking but we haven’t been included,” Sheriff Fitzhugh said. “Sometimes, from a safety perspective, our SROs can make recommendations based on experiences in other schools. On the design or the layout of the traffic or the layout of how entering and exiting in a school situation, so I think it would be a plus if they could be included.
Rutherford County Commissioner Jeff Phillips shares the sheriff’s frustrations with the lack of communication, which he says could put students at risk. Phillips asked school leaders about the issue at a public safety meeting on Tuesday night in hopes of improving school safety.
“It’s definitely something we can work out,” Rutherford County Schools Superintendent Jimmy Sullivan said in response to Phillips’ question. “I’m going to find out why they weren’t invited because we need a partnership. Our SROs are funded by our nationwide sheriff’s department and that’s a tremendous asset to our county. Anything we can do to grow this partnership or ultimately it is our responsibility as a school district to maintain, support and secure this building.
Parents of students at Rutherford County Schools said they were encouraged by the increase in communication. Lovelyne Hatchet said she does not feel safe sending her children to school at the moment and worries every day about their safe return home.
“Where my kids go to school now, before picking up the kids you have to show your ID,” Lovelyne said. “Which is great, but I don’t think it’s enough.”
“We need (the SROs) to say, ‘Hey, this is the kind of protection we need. This is what will work best for us. This is how we can help protect these children,” Lovelyne continued.
Sheriff Fitzhugh said his department cannot fill SRO positions with just any deputy because there are special requirements and training needed to work in a school. However, he is working to get people certified and into buildings by the end of this semester, and already has one person in the pipeline.
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