A recently funded pilot program to employ retired law-enforcement officers as armed security guards in Prince William schools is getting high marks from county school board members.
State law allows school divisions to hire retired police officers to serve as armed guards provided they meet certain criteria, including that they have retired within the past 10 years. The Prince William Board of Supervisors wanted to explore the measure in light of incidents of school violence around the nation.
The board allocated $500,000 for the pilot program in the county budget for the next fiscal year that was approved April 24.
The program, as county police Chief Barry Barnard has outlined, would begin with five security officers and a supervisor and then could be expanded later.
The security officers would be school employees and would work in concert with school-resource officers, who are sworn police officers and employees of the Prince William County Police Department. But the pilot program using retired officers would cost less than hiring additional school-resource officers because sworn officers are paid more and are outfitted with patrol cars and other equipment.
The idea is to get the security officers hired over the summer and have them ready to go for the first day of school next August, said school division spokeswoman Diana Gulotta. Before that, school officials are developing job descriptions and working with the police department on the appropriate training for the new staff.
School Board member Alyson Satterwhite (Gainesville) called the pilot program a “collaborative, well-thought-out proposal that will increase student safety.”
“I look forward to seeing it implemented in the coming year and expanded over time,” she said in an email.
Interim School Board Chairman Dr. Babur Lateef (At Large) hadn’t been appointed to the board when county supervisors first agreed to spend money on the project, but he said he supports it.
“We’re very pleased that they’re funding this pilot program,” he said.
Lateef’s father is a former chairman of the criminal justice department at Youngstown State University in Ohio, so the new chairman is familiar with law enforcement.
Lateef pointed out that implementing the pilot program is a step local officials can take now, as opposed to potentially changing gun or mental-health laws, which would be longer-term concerns.
Lateef said he hopes the new armed security guards can help school-resource officers and unarmed school-security officers with threat assessments as well as security at elementary schools. There are sworn officers assigned to each Prince William middle and high school as school-resource officers. The county’s 61 elementary schools are routinely monitored by patrol officers but are not assigned individual school-resource officers.
Lateef also said the armed guards represent just an “added layer” of security to a system that already had several other layers in place, including the school-resource officers.
Safety always has been a top priority for the school division, he said, and school officials want to make sure parents, many of whom commute away from the county for work, feel confident their children are safe at school.
School Board member Gil Trenum (Brentsville) said the board will have to figure out how best to implement the pilot program to help elementary schools. But he said retired law-enforcers are a good group from which to pick employees.
The school system already employs a number of them in unarmed security positions, he said.
“These types of people are quite capable,” Trenum said.
School Board member Willie Deutsch (Coles) said he thinks the program will be easily expandable once it gets off the ground.
“There’s a lot of checks, and it’s well-thought-out,” he said.
For example, in terms of checks and balances, Deutsch pointed out that Barnard has to sign off on those hired for the program even though they will be school employees.
School Board member Loree Williams (Woodbridge) also said she’s confident in Barnard’s vetting process.
Of the pilot program, she said, “I’m on board with trying it to see how it goes.”
Williams said anything the division can do to make students, staff and parents feel more comfortable about the school environment is good.
School Board member Diane Raulston (Neabsco) has some concerns, though. She didn’t say she was against the pilot program, but she worries about having weapons in elementary schools.
“I’m just thoroughly in the middle on this one,” she said.
Reach Jonathan Hunley at firstname.lastname@example.org.