Richmond County school officials said they will fill the their top security position by January when Chief Patrick Clayton joins the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, but they have not made plans to hire for the lieutenant position made vacant by Richard Roundtree’s election as sheriff.
There are two other officer vacancies on the 36-member staff of the School Safety and Security Department, which includes one unsworn officer, according to Clayton.
The staff is five officers smaller than when Clayton arrived in 2009 because positions opened from retirements and transfers were never filled.
Deputy Superintendent Tim Spivey said hiring has to be carefully managed during such a critical financial time but that the department is operating at a safe and sufficient level. Of the four vacancies, only the chief’s position will be filled as of now, he said.
“We’re not going to jeopardize the safety of the kids,” Spivey said. “We are in a budget crisis … but as far as school safety, whatever it takes we’re going to do.”
The department is the law enforcement arm of the school system and coordinates with the sheriff’s office on major crimes and emergencies.
Clayton said he is eager to bring greater change to the community when he becomes Roundtree’s chief deputy in January. He is proud of the accomplishments made in his years with the school district, including fewer crimes and a weaker gang presence.
The amount of dangerous crimes committed in schools decreased every year for the past three years, from 116 in 2009 to 56 in 2012, while thefts and vandalism have decreased 70 percent. Clayton said much of that has to do with a strong relationship between administrators and school safety staff.
Since 2009, a gang task force has been assigned to schools to conduct interventions and prevention activities with students. Over the past two years, school safety officers have made more than 150 presentations to the community about gang violence among youth.
“Always, the biggest priority is the safety of our students, and I think we’ve done that,” Clayton said.
Clayton came to Augusta in 1995 when he began working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration out of the Savannah office. He was assigned to Augusta in 1997 to work with a drug enforcement task force along with other sheriff’s agencies and joined the school system two years later.
Going forward, Clayton said the department will face more challenges in dealing with a dwindling budget and fewer officers.
Whoever is in charge, the department will continue promoting relationships between staff and students while using technology to fight crime, such as cameras installed at schools, which Clayton said helped cut the vandalism rate so drastically.
“Before I think some of the locals looked at schools as an easy target, but not so much anymore,” he said.