Dalton City Council approves contract to increase the number of school resource officers in city schools

·4 min read

Jun. 7—The number of school resource officers (SROs) in Dalton Public Schools will increase to six when the next school year begins, up from five.

The City Council voted 3-0 Monday to approve a $423,800 agreement with the school system to provide the officers. Mayor David Pennington generally votes only if there is a tie, and council member Tyree Goodlett was absent.

The school system will reimburse the city 75% of the total cost of the officers' salaries and benefits. When school is not in session, the officers will serve as regular patrol officers.

"The additional position will be covering elementary schools," said Police Chief Cliff Cason. "So, there will be two SROs covering the elementary schools, and there will be assigned officers to Hammond Creek (Middle School), Dalton (Junior High School), (The) Dalton Academy and Dalton High School. I'll be meeting with the school board next week along with (City Council member Annalee) Sams, and we'll be discussing additional security measures at that time. There may be some additional adjustments that I will bring to y'all to address safety issues within the schools."

Pennington said the school system has suggested working toward having an SRO in each school.

"One of the things we will be discussing when the school board meets next week (June 13) is long-term planning for SROs within the schools," Cason said. "I'm sure one of the things we will be discussing is the NASRO (National Association of School Resource Officers) recommendations for SRO staffing."

According to NASRO's website (nasro.org), the organization "recommends that every school have at least one carefully-selected, specially-trained school resource officer."

Dalton Public Schools has 10 schools.

"They (the school system) will be doing some additional studying and may come back with additional requests for us," Cason said.

Some council members asked if the school system could move to having an SRO at every school more quickly.

Cason said the Dalton Police Department doesn't have the staffing now to provide more than six SROs. He said he would have to hire more officers and get them the state-mandated specialized training required to serve as SROs if the school system decides it wants to have an SRO in every school. Cason said the contract has to be approved before the school system starts its fiscal year on July 1.

City Administrator Andrew Parker said the contract could be amended if the sides agree to add more SROs. Parker said if the school board decides they want more than six SROs the council could approve an amended contract at its June 20 meeting and have the agreement in place before the school system starts its fiscal year.

Council members asked Cason to gather data on how much it would cost to provide the school system with 10 SROs and to provide that information to the school board and to the council members. Cason said he only has one officer in the training process now.

"Let's go ahead and approve this," said Pennington of the current agreement. "And we can talk to the school board and express this body's desire that we have one in every school."

"What just happened in Texas, could it have happened in Dalton, Georgia, just three or four years ago?" Pennington said, referring to a May 24 incident in Uvalde, Texas, in which a gunman entered an elementary school and fatally shot 19 students and two teachers and wounded 17 others, and to a Feb. 28, 2018, incident in which Dalton High School teacher Randal Davidson fired a Taurus .38 caliber revolver through a window in his classroom. Davidson later pleaded guilty to first-degree criminal damage to property, carrying a weapon within a school safety zone and to disrupting the operation of a public school.

"We are certainly open to working in partnership with the mayor and council to share in funding for those additional positions, but we do not have available funding to pay for more than the expected six officers we've planned for in our 2022-23 contract," said Dalton Public Schools Chief of Staff Pat Holloway. "While funding for these additional officers is a challenge, another barrier to adding more officers would be the police department's ability to recruit and train an additional four SROs."

Dalton Board of Education Chairman Matt Evans said the board "is willing to look at anything and everything. We are proud of our partnership with the Dalton Police Department. In the past we have had as many as six SROs, but it has been difficult for the department to keep us staffed with that many for very long."

"One thing that we have suggested is that if police officers have paperwork they have to complete or something they have to do on their computers during the day, they park at one of our campuses to do that," he said.

Evans said the school board members have asked staff to look at additional changes they might make in terms of buildings and infrastructure to make schools safer.

"We still don't know all of the details of what happened at Uvalde, but we will be studying that to see if there are things we need to be doing that we aren't doing," he said.