Resource officers to leave schools - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Resource officers to leave schools

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Albany-- Students won't be the only ones saying goodbye to Dougherty County schools in May. Albany Police school resource officers will also be leaving.

The city says it can no longer afford to supply the system with officers, but school officials say students will not go without protection.

A letter from interim city manager Lemuel Edwards was sent to Superintendent Sally Whatley earlier this month. In it he explains that budget constraints and staffing needs are the reason APD's eight officers will have to be brought back to regular duty at the department.

Students at Merry Acres Middle School are definitely attached their school resource officer. They've even given Ted Thomas his own nickname, "O. T."

"It's just you can't put a price on it. You cannot put a price on how valuable the SROs are in our schools," says principal Larry Worthy.

Worthy says officer Thomas has been at Merry Acres for nine years and has a report with students that's unmatched by teachers and administrators. "The advantage to having the SRO in the school is that they get to know all the children. It's not just a child with blue jeans and a red shirt on it's John. That's very valuable when something's going down or you need to know what's going on," says Worthy.

But effective May 21st, "O. T." and the seven other Albany police school resource officers will be assigned to other police duties. "We've had some shortages, some vacancies. We've had some officers that have been called to active duty, six of them overseas," says interim police chief Bob Boren.

And interim police chief Bob Boren says he needs the SROs to fill those vacancies. The officers salaries are currently paid by the school system a price tag of $390,000 a year, but Boren says that doesn't mean the city hasn't had to foot any bills for SROs. "The city is taking in about 20% of the officers, the vehicles, the gas, the uniform, the guns, the training. We supply all of that. That's not reimbursed," Boren explains.

School officials say safety won't be jeopardized when resource officers leave. "We have school security officers who we also call campus police, and they're all over the system, on duty, on call in addition to the SROs who are stationed at one particular school," says Carlos Keith, Deputy Superintendent.

In fact, the system spends $600,000 a year to staff and provide benefits, vehicles and supplies for 13 campus police officers. That's in addition to the SROs.

"A number of them work at the elementary schools because the elementary schools don't have a school resource officer. They assist the staff and the administration if laws are broken," says Keith.

The nine part-time and four-full time campus policemen are commissioned officers. The department is a certified state agency, and the officers can perform any function Albany police can. Still their student relationship may not be as close as the one O. T. and other SROs already have with students.

Deputy Superintendent Carlos Keith says the system has already started planning their safety strategy for next year. City officials say there are several ideas on the table including building on the already established campus police department and hiring the same SROs when they are off-duty at the Albany police department.

Two of the school system's school resource officers are supplied by the Dougherty County police department. They are assigned to Radium and Robert Cross Middle schools. School officials say those two officers will stay on as resource officers.

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