In the wake of the mass school shooting last Friday in Newtown, Conn., North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey announced today that he wants to put a police officer in every elementary school in North Charleston.
Summey will make his case at Thursday night's North Charleston City Council meeting, and he says the majority of the council members have told him they're on board with the idea. The new officers would not be installed until January. In the meantime, Summey says that starting Wednesday, 11 members of the police department's SPEED team — which is normally assigned to areas in response to bursts of crime — will join the two officers who currently make the rounds at the city's 21 elementary schools.
The mayor said in a phone conference that the idea of putting full-time police officers in elementary schools is "probably something that should have been considered a while back," but the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School prompted him to action. "If something happened in North Charleston like that and we had done nothing, I couldn't live with myself," Summey said.
The first-year cost of hiring and equipping 21 police officers would be $2 million, with a recurring annual cost of $1.5 million, Summey said (by comparison, Summey estimates that the city currently spends between $500,000 and $600,000 keeping school resource officers in its middle and high schools). The officers' responsibilities would include walking the premises inside and outside of schools, checking to make sure entrances and exits are secured, talking with students, and being the face of law enforcement to young people. "By the middle school and high school level, the police have a negative connotation to a lot of children," Summey said.
Seventeen of the city's 21 elementary schools are in Charleston County School District, where board member Elizabeth Moffly has questioned the ability of school resource officers to question students without parents present. Summey said the city would not have to get permission from CCSD or Dorchester School District II (where the other four schools are) to put police in the schools.
In an e-mailed statement, CCSD Superintendent Nancy McGinley said she appreciated Summey's idea:
We must have safe and orderly schools for our children. We welcome the support from our elected leaders like Mayor Summey and our law enforcement professionals about how best to ensure student and adult safety. Without their help, this dark cloud of horrific violence will continue to hang over our heads, and we will not be able to get back to our core business — teaching and learning.