Armed volunteers will soon be assuming the role of school resource officers in a few Stanly County schools. The school board voted unanimously to start the pilot program last month, following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The state law allowing armed volunteers was passed in 2013, but is only now being put to use. The program will be run by Sheriff George Burris.
“They’re going to be armed security," Burris said. "They’ll be walking the halls, they’ll be mentoring our kids. They’ll be checking in with our faculty, our teachers, our principals. They’ll be walking through the parking lot looking for any suspicious activity our behavior. They’ll be attending lunch with the kids.”
So far, Burris said, 20 people have applied, but only three have met the requirements. Volunteers must be current or retired sworn law enforcement officers or former military police officers. The volunteers will have the same authority as school resource officers while they’re on campus.
"People just think we’re going to hand someone a handgun and put them in a school," Stanly County Schools Superintendent Jeff James said. "That’s farthest from the truth that you can get."
The district’s plan is to station armed volunteers at four elementary schools that are located farther away from the district’s middle and high schools that have school resource officers. James says he expects the program to launch within the next month.
James on initial concerns about selecting volunteers:
“The sheriff assures me it’s going to be an intense vetting process. And right now we are definitely looking for people that have had a career in the county already or live in that area. So that makes me feel pretty comfortable because these are known people, they have known behaviors. There's a history that the community knows them. It's not like just putting a stranger in.”
On not being able to hire a school resource officer at every school:
“That's an improbability. With our 11 elementary schools [it would take] probably a half a million dollars to fund that yearly and that would be on the low end. So the next best thing would be to have retired police officers or retired military of course that have an impeccable record. There will be a full background check performed by the police department. And of course, we do our own background checks before we allow volunteers in. And at that point the sheriff will put them to a 40 hour training course, which if any officer decided they want to be a school resource officer would go through. But that's not the end of it. These individuals will go through ongoing training just as school resource officers that we currently have in our middle and high schools do. "
On the armed volunteer program being a deterrent:
“The signs that are going to go up on the door…we're going to put them on a four by four post outside on school property that will be highly visible and basically just say that there is an armed volunteer on site. This is just another way to stave off any unfortunate event that possibly could happen.”