Originally created 08/09/99

Armed officer vote likely this week



If Columbia County Board of Education members approve this week, local schools could have armed safety officers available on local campuses for quick response to emergencies.

Under the proposal, safety officers would rotate mainly among middle and high schools with some visits to elementary schools, Superintendent Tommy Price said. Additional safety officers might be needed, but Mr. Price said that will be studied after the board takes action -- possibly this week.

"We'll probably have them in uniform and armed, but under some very strict regulations with regard to law enforcement," Mr. Price said.

Mr. Price said he expects to present the proposal Tuesday to the school board. However, he anticipates only tentative approval because two board members -- Debbi Brooks and Roxanne Whitaker -- will not be present when the board meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Evans Government Complex.

School officials aren't interested in buying vehicles for safety officers, but would reimburse officers for travel, Mr. Price said. The school system would consider adjusting the job description and pay scale for safety officers.

The cost for arming safety officers has not been determined, he said.

There are five safety officers -- one at each high school and at Crossroads Academy. All five Columbia County safety officers are certified by the state, and the school board is recognized as a law-enforcement agency.

Doubt remains on whether safety officers need to be sworn by the school board if they are not enforcing laws. Mr. Price said the school system intends to continue referring criminal matters to the Columbia County Sheriff's Office.

Even if safety officers don't enforce the law, Mr. Price said he believes arming them would deter violence and allow a quick response in case of a life-threatening incident.

Board member Regina Buccafusco said she still has questions, but she says using the current staff of safety officers is the best solution. Other board members said the time has come for a decision on safety measures including arming the officers.

"We can't keep waiting," board member Roxanne Whitaker said. "We need to move on."

Other proposed safety measures include purchasing more hand-held metal detectors to conduct random weekly checks. School officials have said at least 20 additional hand-held detectors are needed and could cost around $3,200.

Mr. Price said he also will ask for action on photo identification badges for all school employees as well as middle and high school students.

The school system might consider changing dress code requirements concerning lengths of shorts and skirts, Mr. Price said. Proposed new language puts the appropriate length around the knee with a standard of four inches above the mid-kneecap.

But that standard might not work for all students depending on height and weight, he said.

"We're going to be using discretion," he said.

Peggy Ussery covers education for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 112, or ussery@augustachronicle.com.