Officers on Patrol In Our Schools

Law enforcement personnel trained to work with young people can make a world of difference when they are stationed in schools as “resource officers.” That has been apparent for several years, since the resource officer concept began to catch on in our area.

Now, a few schools in both the Northern Panhandle and East Ohio have resource officers – but most cannot afford them. Given the choice between paying the salary of a resource officer or that of a teacher, the vast majority of education administrators choose the teacher.

That makes sense, especially in Ohio, where state funding cutbacks and difficulty passing local levies have forced many school districts to lay off teachers.

But the massacre earlier this month at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school has brought the issue of resource officers back in front of the public.

No one can say with certainty what effect a resource officer at the Connecticut school would have had on Dec. 14. Almost beyond doubt, however, an armed officer would have prevented at least some of the carnage. And it may be that the killer would not even have entered the school, had he known someone with a gun was there to stop him.

Now there is discussion of whether use of resource officers should be expanded greatly, perhaps even to the elementary schools that, to date, have not been seen as good locations for such personnel.

We have advocated use of school resource officers for several years – but not necessarily to stop armed, murderous intruders. Because of cost, the idea has not caught on; one estimate is that fewer than one in 10 schools in West Virginia have resource officers. And not all of those are trained to work well with students.

Trained resource officers perform a variety of important functions, ranging from providing sympathetic ears to students with problems to intervening against bullies. Here in Ohio County, tips resources officers have been given by students have prevented problems outside schools.

Many of the resource officers who once worked in West Virginia schools were laid off after federal funding to help pay their salaries was cut. That’s right, cut. During an era when school security should have been a priority, federal officials apparently saw little need for it.

But funding resource officers for every school in West Virginia during a year’s time would cost less than even a single “bridge to nowhere” or other federal spending fiasco.

Local, state and federal officials should take a new look at the resource officer concept. Perhaps, using money from all levels of government, more “RO’s” can be placed in our schools. It is an idea that ought to be considered as part of a strategy to safeguard our precious children in several ways.