Resource officers unlikely
By Matt Reinig | Hernando TodayBROOKSVILLE - President Barack Obama said Wednesday that mental health services should be as readily accessible as firearms in the U.S., calling the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut "one of the worst tragedies in our memory."
Published: December 20, 2012
Published: December 20, 2012
How any proposed additional mental health services might be funded remains to be seen, and the president's speech went swiftly afterward into talks of a fiscal cliff.
It's a familiar template much of the country is coping with: How to invest in the future and repair the present with a sick economy.
So the idea of permanently upping security at Hernando County elementary schools by staffing 10 new school resource officers — at an estimated annual cost of $394,609 to $585,920 — appears to be a decision as unlikely to occur as the most recent reason some feel the need for added security to begin with.
"Certainly we would all like to have an officer present at the schools full-time, but the financial issues preclude that at the moment," School Board member Dianne Bonfield said. "No one knows what we'll be looking at in the future, but the board has always supported that, and speaking for me personally I think the elementary schools would all like to have a resource officer."
All school district high schools and middle schools have full-time school resource officers assigned to them, said Lt. Michael Burzumato of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, who oversees school deputies.
Currently there are 12 resource officers in the school district, Burzumato said. The Hernando County Sheriff's Office pays the full salaries of officers staffed in the high schools, but splits the cost of salaries with the School Board for officers in middle and K-8 schools.
"We just keep renewing the same contract year by year, and that might change after what happened in Connecticut," Burzumato said. "It's a possibility, and we might have to go back to the drawing board and try to find a way to come up with the money."
The district's 22 schools are very safe, Burzumato said, and whenever things go bad like they did at Sandy Hook Elementary last Friday, the tendency is for things to seem worse.
"Unfortunately when something bad happens at a school, you can almost make it equivalent to a plane crash," Burzumato said. "It's safer than a car, right? We don't hear about plane crashes often. But when we do and it goes bad, it goes very bad."
What happened in Connecticut was a plane crash, Burzumato said.
"We take security seriously on all our campuses. It's just a tragedy what happened up there," Burzumato said. "It's rare, it's not the norm, and mass media keeps sensationalizing these shooters, and people see that.
"When I talk to people I say, 'Do you remember the shooter's name?' And someone might say, 'Oh, yeah.' But then I'll say, 'Do you remember the victim's name?' "
The reason school resource officers aren't in district elementary schools used to be obvious — they're elementary schools — and the prospect of lethal violence among or toward adolescent children is difficult to fathom.
"People need to understand we've moved to a different level," Superintendent of Schools Bryan Blavatt said. "The last two incidents in schools involved an Amish school in Pennsylvania and this school in Connecticut, and in both cases there were people that didn't have the direct connection with the school, or were looking for a person in the school."
"I think this is something pretty scary because we've always believed if we can manage within our own framework, our staff and students that we could have more control," Blavatt said. "One of those things would be to have one of the students inform staff that something is not right. But that's something we can't do in situations like Sandy Hook and Lancaster, because these people just come out. It's a random action."
Blavatt said he's confident about the safety of Hernando County schools, but the harsh truth is that the teachers at Sandy Hook had every reason to feel that way, too. The response time was short, the students knew what to do and the teachers did everything they were supposed to.
"One of the things apparent to me in situations like this is you have to have the procedures in place and have the response right, but still pray a lot because it doesn't matter if you have a deranged person out there," Blavatt said. "The answer is, of course, we'd love to have the capability to have (resource officers) in the elementary schools, but at this point I don't believe it's realistic to have that expectation."
Sandy Hook is to school safety what Sept. 11, 2001, was to national security, Blavatt said: a paradigm shift.
"It's as dramatic as 9/11 in changing paradigms to violence in schools, because we're realizing it's a situation where people with no nexus or involvement with the school could in fact be the ones to do the damage," Blavatt said. "It's scary."
As for now, Blavatt said, the school district is not doing anything new: It has taken what is there and intensified it.
"We can be criticized for not taking action or fighting to stop it, but in these cases these are people intent on doing damage," Blavatt said.
"The response usually is to add security and greater technology, and that's good, that helps, but the regrettable realty is if somebody's intent on creating damage and is deranged enough I don't know how you can prepare for that," he said. "It's very hard to be proactive, because unlike other situations you really have to work on your ability to be reactive when something like this comes in."
And like domestic security — much of which has been credited to an alert citizenry thwarting such notable attempted terrorist attacks as a car bomb in Times Square and the "underwear bomber" over Detroit — greater awareness in schools is needed.
"That's what we're doing now," Blavatt said.
"I think one of the things that's important is teachers keep their doors locked at all times," School Board member Cynthia Moore said. "That would have kept the guy from getting in some rooms."
The subject of adding resource officers to all elementary schools is something that's been discussed in the past, School Board Chairman Matt Foreman said, but hasn't been enacted for primarily financial reasons.
"It's something we'd like to do," Foreman said. "But I certainly can't make that commitment."