Officials with Owensboro Public Schools and the Owensboro Police Department have had preliminary discussions about the police department providing a second school resource officer to the school system.
OPS spokesman Jared Revlett said Tuesday that a second officer would provide security to both Owensboro Middle School North and Owensboro Middle School South, while being able to respond to nearby elementary schools. A second school resource officer would also help the district get in line with Senate Bill 1, which says schools "shall cooperate to assign one or more certified school resource officers to each school within a school district, as funds and qualified personnel become available."
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OPD Chief Art Ealum said the issue has been discussed but it would take time to provide another school resource officer to the district if the decision were made to do so.
OPD has one school resource officer at Owensboro High School. That officer is "responsible for the district as a whole," Revlett said.
The police department does have a policy where officers regularly visit schools, Revlett and Ealum said.
"There is always a law enforcement presence nearby," Revlett said. Having a permanent resource officer assigned to the middle schools would help the district comply with Senate Bill 1, which became law earlier this year.
"First and foremost, school safety is our No. 1 priority and always has been," Revlett said.
The bill is unclear in how many school resource officers a district needs. Revlett said the bill requires school superintendents to send annual reports on how many resource officers a district has to the Center for School Safety.
The discussion is "real preliminary," Revlett said. "We've got the funds to add that second school resource officer. We are working with Chief Ealum and the Owensboro Police Department to fill that position."
Officer Andrew Boggess, OPD's public information officer, said the department has 104 officers but can hire up to 110.
Ealum said the department currently has five job offers pending and is planning to send several new officers to the state police academy in Richmond in the fall. Officers hired from the pending job offers would likely not go to the police academy until early next year, he said.
Before an officer should be assigned as a school resource officer, he or she would have to undergo some specialized training, although Ealum said the entire training would occur periodically over three years.
Placing a new school resource officer at OPS is "just not something that can happen overnight," Ealum said. The department would have to weigh sending an officer to become a resource officer against the prospect of taking that officer away from other duties.
"Safety definitely trumps finances, in my opinion, but we have a duty to make sure the community gets the law enforcement services they need," Ealum said.
Ealum said state law does allow school districts to hire special law enforcement officers who have arrest powers only at schools. Revlett said that possibility wasn't currently under consideration by district officials.
On Senate Bill 1, Ealum said "the intent was good," but the bill is unclear.
"I think there needs to be some clean-up language in the bill," he said.
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse