By Brian Livingston / email@example.com
The Meridian Star
Mississippi schools will soon receive funds to place trained law enforcement officers on campuses with the start of the Mississippi Community Oriented Policing program.
Officials with the Meridian Public School District have already hired five officers with funds allocated under the program.
"The safety of the students and the staffs in each school is important to us," said Dr. Alvin Taylor, superintendent of the MPSD. "We have already taken advantage of this program to bolster our security force."
The Mississippi Board of Education recently approved allocating $1.57 million to place 157 trained officers in public schools in 50 districts around the state.
The program, proposed by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, provides up to $10,000 to pay for a certified law enforcement officer at a public school. The local community will fund the remaining costs.
The Mississippi Community Oriented Policing Services in Schools grant program (MCOPS) was passed during the 2013 legislative session. It was established for the utilization of school resource officers (SRO) within the K-12 education system. The funding must be matched from local funds on a 50/50 matching basis.
“I’m proud we can place 157 additional trained officers in Mississippi schools to protect the precious lives of children,” Reeves said. “MCOPS is an example of a state and local community partnership that can provide a service citizens want, and I look forward to seeing even more schools take advantage of
the program in the future.”
Taylor said the program will be a great help in allowing the school district to better cover each and every campus. He said this was an opportunity neither he nor the school board members could pass up.
"This actually helps us to speed up the process of increasing School Resource Officers (SRO) in the district," Taylor said. "We had plans to do this but the program has allowed us to step up our timetable so it is a winning situation for us, the students, and the staff at each of the campuses."
Marvis Killingsworth is the president of the Meridian Public School Board. He said his son has been his inside source on how well the current SROs have been acclimating themselves to the school environment.
"My son tells me the officers are working out well and they are approachable," Killingsworth said. "We want a security presence, not a police presence. Perception is an important thing to consider when dealing with young people and the staffs of all these schools."
The MPSD consists of eight elementary schools, two middle schools, two junior high schools, and one high school. With 13 different campuses to provide security, Taylor and Killingsworth are well aware it takes manpower and extensive training. The School Security Officers (SSO) are placed at each campus. SROs, that are police academy trained, armed officers with arrest powers, float among the campuses. Taylor and Killingsworth said the perfect setup would include SSOs and SROs at each campus.
"We hope to add more SROs next year," Taylor said. "We want to increase the security department headed by Chief Ricardo Clayton so that we have full coverage all over the district. I think this would give the parents, the students, and the staff a certain degree of peace of mind."
Reeves proposed MCOPS in response to the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 children and six adults dead.
Law enforcement officers will be required to train in the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program, which is used by law enforcement nationwide to train officers on responding to shooting incidents.