When the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office launched the School Resource Officer program in 1993, former Sheriff Truman Jones never thought school shootings would reach the level they did Friday morning.
Mark Di Nardo and Michael Potts apprehend Scott Parker, as he pretends to be a suspect, during a mock intruder drill at Christiana Middle School in Christiana, Tenn. (TMP File Photo)
On Friday, a gunman entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and killed 26 people, 20 of them children between the ages of 5 and 10, making it the worst mass shooting in the nation’s history.
“You can’t foresee something like this,” Jones said, adding he hopes a program he put in place in 1993 will help local law enforcement and schools prevent such a massacre.
In 1993, Jones was beginning to see potential problems with students. So he launched the School Resource Officer program, which placed Rutherford County Sheriff’s deputies inside the high schools across the county.
“We were starting to see problems inside the schools,” Jones said about the first SRO program in Tennessee, “and the students needed guidance and a better rapport with law enforcement officers.”
Now, the SRO program has two officers at every high school, one officer in every middle school and coverage at every elementary school in Rutherford County. Some elementary schools share an officer depending on proximity.
And those deputies work with school system staff to prepare for events like those of Friday.
“The priority of the Sheriff’s Office is to provide safety and security at our county schools,” current Sheriff Robert Arnold said.
They did that by helping develop a uniform response plan about six years ago with officials from Rutherford County Schools, said James Evans, spokesman for the Board of Education.
“We were getting so large, we decided we needed a systemwide plan,” Evans said.
So, a safety committee was formed to look at different policies for crisis situations.
The plan that was developed includes a “safety week” where school administrators with the help of the Sheriff’s Office hold drills, which test the school’s response, the school resource officers and the Felony Arrest Search and Tactical team, as well as the accompanying paramedics and Special Operations Response Team.
Jones explained the training is important so school employees can respond better in crisis situations.
“When you have this type of training, you can react almost instantaneously and it helps,” Jones said.
Teachers have set procedures to follow in case of authentic emergencies. The information is stored in a notebook with class rolls and telephone numbers of parents.
Although emergency plans are written, Evans said drills also allow schools to practice the procedures. The practice exposes any potential problems, which can be corrected in the future.
“And after events like this, we take a look at what happened and have a debriefing. We’ll probably have one next week to see if this will affect our plan,” Evans said.
Evans then cited a bomb threat that was called into Oakland High School in the fall of 2011, which gave the school system a chance to look at its uniform procedures.
“Some things were modified after that,” he said.
And things have been modified a great deal since Jones started the SRO program nearly 20 years ago.
What started as a way to bring law enforcement and the community together has grown into another way to build relationships and gather information.
“Officers have gathered some amazing information over the years,” Jones said. “Student would tell the SROs things that they wouldn’t tell anyone else.”
The program is yet another source of information that law enforcement and the school system can use to keep students safe.
“It gives you another way to maybe prevent these things,” Jones said.