SRO's a safety focal point for Lowcountry schools after March for Our Lives, walk-outs
Students across the Lowcountry stood up with millions across the nation this spring for safer schools. The question now is are Lowcountry district officials listening?
“I can’t remember all the names, but I know the faces,” School Resource Officer Charles Rivers said, surrounded by hundreds of Westview Elementary School students.
Rivers works for the Goose Creek Police Department and is the only School Resource Officer assigned to Westview Middle, Westview Primary, and Westview Elementary schools in Berkeley County. The three schools are on the same campus and have a combined enrollment around 2,300 students, according to district officials.
“I’m watching the kids, but I’m watching the wood line. Parking lot. Tree line. All around the exterior,” Rivers said. “It’s kind of like patrol in a way.”
Berkeley County School District officials told ABC News 4 none of the district’s 26 elementary schools have a dedicated SRO, but rather receive support from an officer with a nearby school. Berkeley County spent has an SRO at each of its high schools and middle schools, and has 22 total SROs among its 35,000 students.
“There’s definitely places I feel unsafe at school,” Westview 8th grader Emma Brandon said. “Because everything that’s been going on with the school shootings because you don’t know anymore.”
Charleston County currently has 57 SROs among its student population of around 50,000, not including charter schools.
Michael Reidenbach, CCSD Head of Security, said he wants an SRO in every Charleston County school.
“What we’re advocating for is security presence at every school by personnel who are dedicated to that mission,” he said. “We don’t want to be caught off guard.” It would take an additional 29 SROs to have an officer in every CCSD school, at a total cost of $2.5 million. The CCSD Board of Trustees voted in an April 23rd meeting to negotiate with local law enforcement to have SRO’s in every school. Reidenbach said even that measure won’t do away with fears.
“We can never put things in place and say with 100% certainty this will not happen in our school,” he said. “This is a conversation we have to have in an ongoing basis to create that culture within our community within our schools that they’re safe places.”
Ian Mills lives in West Ashley and is currently looking around for schools for his daughter to attend next year.
“It would make me feel more secure if there was an SRO there,” he said. “Instead of everybody just cowering in their rooms to know that there’s someone there that could be proactive and keep them safe, that would definitely make me feel better.”
“You can trust Officer Rivers 100% because how much he helps kids, how much he makes them feel better, build up their stamina, makes them feel tough,” Westview 8th grader Penelope Martinez said.
“Parents have got to feel confident that they’ve got somebody in the school that’s going to do what he needs to do,” Rivers said. “If that means putting their life on the line, then that’s what the job calls for.”
That’s a high calling for a select few, and one Officer Rivers said every school should answer.
“It’s something we have to have in this day and age. There’s no getting around it, you need to have an officer in every school.”
ABC News 4 spoke with officials from Dorchester District Two, as well. They said the district has 24 SROs between its 26,000 students. Officials say ten DD2 schools have no dedicated SRO, but share with nearby schools.
DD2’s CFO says the district budgeted $$1,057,619 to place SROs in every middle and high school. Officials say they’re unsure about additional officers for next year as the district is still in the process of developing the 2018-2019 operating budget.