Four Tazewell County law enforcement agencies were among 53 localities awarded state grant money last week to fund school resource and school security officers at Virginia public schools.
Grants for the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office, the Bluefield Virginia Police Department and the Richlands Police Department were renewed for the coming year. New to the SRO game is the Cedar Bluff Police Department, which was awarded $45,430 to fund a full-time officer at Cedar Bluff Elementary School.
“I’m really excited about the grants and really excited about having a daily presence from the Cedar Bluff Police Department in the school,” said Police Chief Mike Brown.
The chief hopes to bring the new SRO on aboard in July. Up until now, the elementary school shared its SRO with other Tazewell County schools. Brown and his officers tried to make at least one walk-through at the school each day, but on days when call volume was heavy, they weren’t able to do so.
“This will provide an officer everyday in that school,” he said.
Brown believes having an officer dedicated solely to the elementary school will not only increase school security, but also help students feel more comfortable with police.
“At this age, a lot of kids are scared of police officers,” he said. “If they see the same person day-in and day-out, they won’t be afraid to approach them if there is something going on.”
Sheriff Brian Hieatt said the state grants have helped his office and the town PDs to build a safety force for all students. When such grants came available years ago, they mainly focused on helping to man high schools with school resource officers, he said, but they’ve since expanded.
“In recent years through all these tragedies, we’ve seen that middle and elementary schools are just as vulnerable,” Hieatt said.
The presence of an armed officer itself goes a long way, he said.
“When people pull up and see that police car in front of that school, that is a deterrent. Knowing that there is an armed, certified officer behind those doors is a great deterrent.”
Between state grants and funds from the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors and commonwealth’s attorney’s office, Tazewell County schools have 12 school resource officers between them.
Last year’s funds also helped the sheriff’s office bring a school safety coordinator on board. Hieatt said the coordinator works with each SRO to make sure each school has a resource officer at designated times. The coordinator also helps organize programs like active shooter training.
State grants were awarded by the Criminal Justice Services Board and its executive committee.
“It is paramount that we continue to make smart investments to keep Virginia schools safe and to create supportive learning environments for our students,” said Gov. Ralph Northam.
As recipients of the grants, SROs and SSOs are required to attend a 4.5-day training on the responsibilities of an SRO/SSO, legal issues, adolescent brain development and trauma, mental health issues, students with disabilities and more.