School Resource Officer

I wanted to share the thoughts I’ve had over the past week as I’ve read comments on social media, read e-mails I’ve received, watched the School Board meeting from Monday night and spoken with both Dr. Parish and Chief Bowen.  This topic hits home for me as my son, a graduate from Poquoson High School, is a 3rd grade school teacher in Northern Virginia in an area surrounded by violence.  And, my daughter was a freshman at VT the year of that horrific shooting and in the dorm where the first student was shot and killed. There is no way that I can share all my thoughts in a City Council meeting or even a work session as we have limited time to speak at both. And frankly, I’ve learned since being on City Council, speaking off the cuff isn’t one of my strong suits.  I’m one of those people that think of all the great things I should have said after the meeting. I’m working on getting better at that.

First I want to say, I wasn’t at the Sunday citizen meeting on this topic because I was 2,000 miles away visiting my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter and didn’t get back until late Wednesday evening.  If I hadn’t been out of town, I certainly would have been there.

Also, keep in mind, my opinion is just one opinion on City Council so by no means will be the determining factor for what City Council does regarding this issue.  These are just my current thoughts on various topics surrounding this issue.  I’m always open to listening to other’s opinions and open to changing my opinion if I get new information that makes sense to me.  If you’d like to contact me to discuss this or any other issue, I will always make myself available.  You can reach me on this website, on my council FB site Click Here , or my council e-mail address jana.andrews@poquoson-va.gov.  I will always respond and if you provide your phone number and request a call, I will call you.

In light of past and present school shootings, on reason for a SRO is school safety.  A fact that I think everyone will agree on is, no student or teacher should ever die in school.  My personal opinion is if you want to stop school shootings, the most effective way is to stop the gun from getting in the school.  No gun, no shooting.  My previous opinion was that the most effective way to achieve that is to have metal detectors in all the schools. Because even if we have 1 full-time SRO in each school, that officer will need to be in the right place at the right time and fire accurately before they are fired on first in order to stop deaths.  Even with an SRO in a school, multiple deaths can happen as we have seen many times.  But, after speaking with Chief Bowen an the amount of resources and time it would take to implement that on a daily basis made me think twice about that.  However, metal detectors aren’t cost prohibitive, especially considering we are looking at the possibility of borrowing $23 million for Capital Improvements, I would like to see a portion of that (it wouldn’t take much – possibly as little as $10) to add some form of metal detectors in the CIP to have on hand to use if we feel the need for a period of time or possibly for school events that are large where the general public is entering to ensure a gun doesn’t get into our schools.  With this large borrowing for Capital Improvements, it would be the perfect time to implement this added level of security.  Some say that if someone wants to kill students, they will find a way to do it, run through the metal detector, get access to students getting on or off buses or while they are out at recess, have someone open a locked door to get in the back of the school, etc.  That is absolutely true, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do everything we can to reduce the chance to the smallest degree possible.

Some citizens want a SRO to help with the drug and bullying issues in our schools.  Can an SRO officer assist with that?  Of course, but so can trained counselors.  I’m not talking about school counselors, I’m talking about licensed therapeutic counselors experienced in dealing with juveniles.  It is clear to me, we have these issues in our schools, just as every other school does, and they need to be addressed.  My daughter, who is a licensed therapeutic counselor, and I spoke about this issue. She definitely agrees licensed counselors are best equipped to deal with juveniles in the areas of drugs and bullying as that is their specialty.  A SRO officer will have some training in this area, but not as much as a licensed counselor.  Does that mean a SRO couldn’t assist in this area? No, absolutely not.  Also, drugs and bullying are hard issues a SRO or counselor won’t necessarily stop.  You can’t police or regulate parenting, and let’s face it there are troubled homes out there in every community, even ours, and that is where many of the students causing problems come from.  A SRO or counselor can only do so much, especially considering home life or parenting issues if that is where the problem stems from. And bullying, even if it is in writing on social media, which doesn’t happen in school is not an issue the school can or should get involved in. And, if it is not criminal or civil in nature, the police department can’t get involved either.  Teenagers are young adults, not fully mature, with changing hormones and different levels of upbringing and maturity who will sometimes make poor decisions.  Not every instance of bad behavior is bullying, sometimes its just poor behavior. And, no matter what help and support we give, there will always be issues to deal with.  I think there can be a combination of things used to help with issues such as this if they become excessive.

There are some cases where SROs have made issues in schools worse – stories of elementary school students being handcuffed, high school students arrested for incidents which should be a school administration matter resulting in criminal records which adversely impact their long term future.  There are also cases where SROs have been a huge benefit to schools and made a positive difference.  You will always be able to find good or bad to support your view point.  I think if our city hires a SRO, it needs not to be a knee jerk reaction just to hire a body as quickly as possible.  I think that is how you can get the wrong person in the job or hire someone with no program in place and the horror stories can happen.  If our city does decide this is the way we need to go, I think the best step is to get a solid SRO program outlined with definitive guidelines in place before someone is hired.  I definitely do not want to see students arrested for things that should be handled by school administration.

This is a very important position in our schools and it is imperative the right person(s) with the right qualifications and experience working with juveniles is put in place. If the city does decide to implement a SRO program, I think both a male and female SRO officer in some capacity is essential.  There are certain issues girls or young women would absolutely not feel comfortable going to a male officer for and visa versa with boys or young men.  I would also want assurances if we did hire a SRO, there is something in place allowing  termination if adherence to the guidelines weren’t followed or the person wasn’t effective. I don’t want our schools in the position of having one of those horror stories and not being able to do anything about it.  After speaking with Dr. Parish and Chief Bowen, I’m confident they would work together to make sure that didn’t happen.

I haven’t seen much discussion about this, but did want to say I am emphatically against arming teachers or administrators and it would take a lot to convince me otherwise.  Teachers went to school to teach, not to be school security.  You can train a teacher to carry and even shoot a gun.  But, training someone to shoot a gun is very different than training someone to shoot to kill.  No gun training that a teacher would receive is going to teach that.  Even trained law enforcement officers sometimes freeze and can’t fire their weapon – look at Parkland, FL and their SRO.  Adding guns in the hands of teachers increases the chance of an accidental shooting or student getting a gun. My opinion is the only person that should carry a gun in school is a trained law enforcement officer.

Also, we have 4 schools.  If we only have 1 or 2 SROs, which children do we decide don’t need protection? (hence, why I support metal detectors in all schools).  Doesn’t it make sense that if someone wants to come into our schools to shoot students they are going to go to the school where there isn’t a SRO? So, do we have 4 SROs?

Will a SRO ensure there are no school shootings, stop bullying, stop problems in the classrooms, stop drugs in school? No. Those things can and probably will continue to exist even if we had a SRO in each school. Is it possible a SRO can help with those issues? Yes. I think its always better to err on the side of safety.  I think a SRO program would help more than it would hurt.  I don’t see a reason based on the merit of a program to say no to it.  BUT, HOW DO WE PAY FOR IT?  That is the real struggle for me.  I would love to fix all the buildings and vehicles that are falling apart in the city, hire more police and fireman and give them the very latest equipment, give all our city employees and teachers a large raise, put every school security measure in place, build sidewalks, etc., etc.  But the city has a checkbook just like you do and there has to be money in the account to pay for that. If you use money to pay for one thing, that means giving up something else, and what is that something else, when everything else is necessary for the city to function? Do you tell our teachers they don’t get a raise every year so we can pay for SROs?  All our money comes from tax revenue – that is tax you pay as a citizen.  So, we could indeed do all the things I mentioned if citizens and businesses are willing to pay enough tax to cover it.  A SRO would be a police department position and I don’t believe our current department can afford to give up a position to go exclusively to the schools.  So, where do we get the money?  Some say the $23 million we are going to borrow. That debt is for one time purchases for Capital Improvements to fix things like heating systems, roofs, vehicles like fire trucks and school buses that are all reaching the end of their life span and must be replaced, and to make repairs to a middle school that must be made in order for it to stay open.  Keep in mind a SRO is a full-time salary year, after year, after year.  If we don’t replace a roof to hire two SROs this year, then next year, not only will the roof still need replacing, but we will have to come up with another year’s salary for the SRO.  The $23 million for the CIP is not a viable means to pay for a SRO.  I’m not willing to hire someone who is relying on their income to support themselves and/or their families if I don’t know we have a steady stream of continued income to pay for them year after year.

So, there are options, but all have pluses and minuses. We either have to find additional income to go into the budget, cut back on something somewhere else in the budget or find another source to cover the cost of a SRO.

I know re-instituting the boat tax doesn’t seem popular (especially to those with boats), and I’m willing to take the heat from those that don’t agree, but as a finance person with 30 years experience, I think removing the boat tax on luxury boats was a bad decision.  I am not in favor of taxing work boats that people use to make their living. The city doesn’t earn any tax income on the gas the additional boats we may have gained are using at our marinas, that money goes to the state.  And we still have the same expense of sending out $0 tax bills to all boat owners because you can’t by law not have a property tax, so our tax is less than a penny, so we haven’t saved any cost by eliminating the tax. Would we lose some restaurant business and slip business from boats that dock here because they would move to Hampton where there is no boat tax.  Sure, some.  But, I guarantee you most of the restaurant business in our town is from people who live here and in other nearby jurisdictions, not boat owners who only dock here, so even if a Poquoson resident moves their boat, they still live here and will frequent the restaurants.  And in reality, someone who has their boat docked in their backyard, lives in Poquoson, or has enough money to own a boat (boats aren’t cheap) is not going to move their boat to a place its inconvenient to get to just to avoid a tax. The Commissioner of Revenue’s estimate when I asked about this last year, is it would generate $140,000 in income to the city even accounting for the boats we would lose.  That’s $140,000 every year!! Continual income stream folks.

And, what about recreational vehicles such as RVs or jet skis? Is it fair someone with a recreational vehicle doesn’t have to pay personal property tax, but someone with a recreational vehicle does?  Absolutely not. And, I’ve seen the comments that someone who owns a boat but doesn’t have kids in school shouldn’t have to pay a boat tax to pay for a SRO.  Well, to that, I say, you are paying real estate tax that goes to pay for the school improvements and teachers, but don’t have kids in school, what is the difference?  You are also paying restaurant tax and sales tax which is used for things you don’t utilize. Frankly, that is the wrong way to look at any tax.  Any additional income is income added into the general fund that pays for everything, not just a SRO.  If that’s the logic, then I could say “we are going to use the money from the boat tax to pay for something everyone in the city uses (insert whatever you want here) and then take the money we used to use for that for the SRO”.  New money coming in is not earmarked for one specific thing, it goes into the general fund. The bottom line is we need additional money in our budget for EVERYTHING and re-instating the boat tax makes sense and makes it fair to all recreational vehicle owners.  This is something I feel strongly about and will continue to try and change as long as I’m on city council.

So, the bottom line is, this is a hard subject with lots of questions to answer.  Do I think we should go out and hire an SRO tomorrow? No. Do I think we should never hire an SRO? No. Do I think we need to have more discussions about it with our school board and police department to determine what kind of safety program and additional things we should implement to keep our kids safe and make them feel safe?  Yes.  And, City Council members have discussed and are working on putting something in place to accomplish this.  A SRO is a very important position, working with the children in our schools.  It is imperative that the right program be put in place and the right person, one with experience working with juveniles be hired. Without the right program and person, it will be ineffective and a waste of tax payer money.  It is important if we take this step forward we do it correctly and with careful thought and consideration.

I commend citizens for taking the opportunity after Councilman Canella’s comment at our March 12th council meeting to come together for something they feel strongly about. Citizens have the power to make things happen and I’m happy to see active engagement by our citizens.  That is never a bad thing.

There are probably more things I could say on the subject and will probably think of more after I hit post, but I think this is enough for now and hopefully gives citizens an idea of where I stand on the issue, the questions which still need to be asked and answered and the information which still needs to be gathered for informed decisions to be made on this matter.

For information purposes her are a few links:

Current PCPS Crisis Management Plan

Current Capital Improvement Plan

School Consolidation Website

Thanks for your time,

Jana Andrews

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