Local Rockingham County officials announced Wednesday that they are considering implementing a Volunteer School Safety Resource Officer Program, which was created in statute by the legislature following the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.
The statutory basis for the program, announced by Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page and Rockingham County Schools Superintendent Dr. Rodney Shotwell, was codified in state law by the 2013 General Assembly but has not been implemented before now.
The program allows for those with a law enforcement officer or military police background, with an honorable discharge, to serve as armed special volunteer deputies to better secure schools.
To be eligible the volunteer school resource officers must have renewed law enforcement training certified by either the North Carolina Sheriff’s Education and Training Standards Commission or the North Carolina Criminal Justice Education and Training Standards Commission.
“We can’t wait for another tragic event or the loss of even one child’s life,” Page said. “Now is the time for action.”
Page said the volunteer resource officer program is just one possible solution for Rockingham County.
“With the continued support of our legislature, we can make a difference for school safety,” Page said. “We must do better and we can do better.”
Shotwell also spoke at the announcement saying safety is a priority for the county board of education and he is acting to secure schools on their behalf.
“I’m doing what they’re asking me to do,” Shotwell said. “Our kids see resource officers as safety. We see them as friends. I think we can have former police officers, military, and deputies come into our schools. That would be a welcome change here in Rockingham County.”
Shotwell said the state legislature has been supportive of what schools need for security.
“I hope we can be a model not just for North Carolina, but for the nation,” Shotwell said.
North Carolina House Speaker Rep. Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and Senate Leader Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) attended the announcement on Wednesday, as well as Rep. Kyle Hall (R-Rockingham) and Sen. Ron Rabin (R-Harnett).
Following the shooting in Parkland, Florida where a gunman killed 17 students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Moore formed the House Select Committee on School Safety and said that the tragedy would not go unanswered in North Carolina.
“State legislators know that school security starts with local officials – like Rockingham County’s Sheriff Sam Page and Superintendent Dr. Rodney Shotwell – working together to protect our children every day,” Moore said. “These brave local law enforcement officers and dedicated educators form the first line of defense for our students and teachers in our schools. Our duty is to take every available action to stand between our precious students and educators and anyone wishing to do them harm.”
Apart from the qualifications laid out in the statute local law enforcement agencies overseeing the special deputies will set selection requirements for their volunteer deputies but there will be a required medical exam and the deputies must be volunteers.
Following the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting the legislature also created a grant program for the state to match local school districts’ spending on resource officers.
“School safety has long been an important priority for legislative Republicans, and that’s why we created the Volunteer School Safety Resource Officer Program in 2013,” Berger said. “I commend Sheriff Page and Dr. Shotwell for taking a proactive approach and becoming pioneers in leveraging this existing tool to help create a safer environment for our children in Rockingham County Schools.”
The 2013 General Assembly also encouraged statewide development of school safety exercises and schematic diagrams of classrooms for law enforcement agencies in the state budget following the 2012 attack.
Hall, who represents Rockingham County, said local governments and state legislators must collaborate to protect students and teachers in schools.
“This was forward-thinking with this statute,” Hall said, referring to the Volunteer School Safety Resource Officer Program.
Physical security in schools is one important part of a comprehensive approach to school safety in North Carolina, Rabin said.
Rabin co-chairs the Joint Legislative Emergency Management Oversight Committee.
“I commend you for taking the action,” Rabin told Sheriff Page and Superintendent Dr. Rodney Shotwell at the news conference. “I think it’s necessary.