Richfield Town Council tables idea of funding SRO

A proposal to fund a school resource officer (SRO) for Richfield Elementary came before the town’s board Monday night, but the board tabled a decision on the issue.

Mayor Terry Deese introduced an agenda item regarding appropriating town funds for a member of the Stanly County Sheriff’s Office to work as an SRO at the school. The Sheriff’s Office provides law enforcement duties for the town instead of Richfield having a police department.

Stanly County Schools Safety Director Jennifer Flowe made the proposal to the town council, along with Stanly County Sheriff Jeff Crisco.

“With the issues going on in the world today, it’s becoming more and more apparent that school systems are all trying to put SROs in their schools,” Deese said.

The proposal, sent via email to the council, noted SCS is going after grant money to help offset the costs of an officer, but “it will still leave them short,” Deese said.

“Across the country right now, the biggest trend is putting law enforcement officers in our schools,” Crisco said. “Our schools in our world, in the law enforcement world, are soft targets. If you want to cause the most destruction and chaos, target a school. Go after our kids and grandkids.”

The sheriff notes on the West Coast, highly trained SWAT officers are being put into schools.

“That way you have the best of the best in law enforcement protecting our kids,” Crisco said. “I’m a huge advocate for it. The way this country is going forward, (protecting our kids) is our number-one objective.”

Deese said the town would have to find an amendment to cut in order to maintain a balanced budget.

Commissioner Barry Byrd expanded the discussion of school safety to include metal detectors, noting the sheriff’s office recently purchased four metal detectors.

Byrd recommended, while the town gets more information about the grant, to purchase metal detectors for Richfield.

Crisco noted metal detectors were not meant for daily use, but for large functions like ballgames and graduations.

The cost for a metal detector, Crisco said, was around $4,000.

Regarding SROs, Flowe said all the SCS high and middle schools have officers, noting towns like Oakboro, Stanfield, Norwood and Locust “have committed to funding” officers for the current school year.

Officers at the aforementioned towns would be employees of the town’s police departments. Schools such as Aquadale, Millingport and Endy, who do not have town councils or police staffs, would be funded under the sheriff’s office.

The grant, Flowe said, would be for $33,333 to the cost of one full-time officer, which she added was based on an estimate of $50,000 for the salary and benefits for one officer.

However, Flowe said, “in the real world, it’s a lot more than that,” with the sheriff stating the cost could be more than $60,000 total.

Byrd said in an interview Wednesday the total cost for one officer would be closer to $80,000, with the town responsible for approximately $50,000.

Flowe noted SROs work through the summer for camps or other events, adding they “fluctuate back and forth” when needed.

The deadline for grant applications is Aug. 30, meaning Richfield could not apply for the grant before the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting.

Deese noted the grant would not be guaranteed next year, with Flowe agreeing that applications for the grant have to be done annually.

Byrd asked staff to find out if COVID-19 funds coming to the town could be used for an SRO.

“Once again, we’re in a situation because we don’t have a police department that we’re going to have this officer on duty,” Byrd said. “If we decide to do this and we don’t get the grant, we’re looking at basically hiring another officer (for) $50,000…I don’t think Richfield with its tax base and the taxes that we have could afford that.”

Byrd said the board “needed to put some more thought into it and give the board 30 days to ask questions” about metal detectors. Regarding the SRO, he said he did not know what to do, adding if the county would have gotten the grant before Monday’s meeting, the outcome might be different “if we would have more time to have thought about this.” Byrd said it would be the rest of the board who ultimately made the decision.

Deese concluded the discussion by saying SCS should come back to the council in February when work on the next fiscal year’s budget begins.