As the result of rising demands for a greater law enforcement presence at local schools, the Newton County Sheriff's Office has hammered out an agreement with the board of education to provide schools with 17 full-time deputies.
The three-year $839,000 contract between the BOE and NCSO was approved by the Newton County Board of Commissioners Tuesday. The school system will pay all costs associated with the program.
In the early 1990s a handshake agreement between NCSO and BOE was enough to provide a deputy to patrol Newton High School. Traditionally deputies have not been required to go through any specialized training course to patrol the schools.
But a growing student population, coupled with rising crime levels, has meant the old handshake agreement has outlived its usefulness.
"Now the need is much more," said Sheriff Joe Nichols.
To prevent deputies from wearing themselves out by working two jobs - one patrolling the streets for the NCSO and a second one patrolling the halls for the BOE - Nichols said it was time to iron out the parameters of the program.
The 17 deputies, or school resource officers, will work full-time in their schools, responding to, investigating and making arrests for crimes that occur on school property. They will also make classroom presentations on a range of topics, including security, crime prevention and drug/alcohol education.
According to the standard operating procedure of the program, the SROs may only take action when they and the school principal believe an incident is a criminal law violation. SROs will work with principals to develop a strategy to help minimize and prevent dangerous situations from occurring.
These officers must complete a special state SRO 80-hour course within their first 12 months of employment. They must also participate in a minimum of 120 training hours a year as well as periodic SRO refresher courses.
Sharp Learning Center, Newton High and Alcovy High will each be provided with three deputies through the program. Eastside High will receive two deputies. Each of the four middle schools as well as Mainstay Academy will have one officer. There will also be one roaming officer.
NCSO will manage the program and the 17 deputies assigned to it. The three-year agreement can be modified annually for changes to the wage structure.