Serving Kenly, Selma, Smithfield, Princeton & Pine Level since 1973

Johnston needs more school resource officers, more training

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As a career law enforcement officer, N.C. advanced certified, SWAT-trained and basic infantry trained in the Marine Corps, I submit that our kids and grandkids in schools and colleges face the threat of being shot and are not prepared.

This was not even thought of when I went to school or college. As a stepdad to a Johnston County teacher and grandfather to elementary school kids here, I am very concerned. In January 2018, I began to look into the question of safety and the school resource officers in Johnston County. I have many emails between me, the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office and school administration that show almost no transparency from them.

I decided I needed to take it further by research with numerous agencies on behalf of the 38 out of 46 schools that had no SROs. My concern as a parent/grandparent, I believe, is representative of the safety for every teacher, student and all parents/grandparents of kids in our schools. Everyone deserves to be safe.

Superintendent Ross Renfrow told me in person in April 2018 they were short of SROs and asked the sheriff for 12 more — there were only 8 SRO deputies for the county — for the beginning of 2018-19 school year. This apparently did not happen. An email I sent in early 2019 to both the sheriff and school administration requested SRO training records for their schools, which is public record under N.C. General Statute 132-1. I described in my request the fact that middle schools are the gateway across the U.S. for introduction to drugs and crime.

About three to four weeks later, Sheriff Bizzell announced they’re covering all the middle schools with SROs! Coincidence?

So, the second half of this year shows SROs in middle schools. Now there are 15 SROs I know of for 46 schools, leaving about 25,000 students and teachers with little to no protection. The county has doubled in size, the sheriff still has only eight deputies per shift — the same number as 15 years ago — and is understaffed and the SROs are only basically trained, according to a training officer I spoke to at the N.C. Department of Justice.

One form of training I feel is vital to an SRO is tac-medic training, which is reported would’ve saved lives in Parkland, Florida in 2018 had officers had the training prior to the arrival of EMS after the scene was secure. Sheriff Bizzell releases no training information for SROs and not even our schools have any knowledge of the training of the armed SROs patrolling the schools. Wouldn’t they want this as a hedge against future liability?

I am told that the sheriff’s office holds the personnel files and all training as confidential so as not to compromise tactics. This is a ridiculous excuse to any veteran or police officer trained in tactics. I did not ask any SROs’ names. If you look up the definition of tactics and training, they are very different.

Transparency doesn’t exist in Johnston County, Hug your kids and know that your elementary school kids and teachers are very exposed and the SROs’ training is basic.

Jim Davenport