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The sheriff’s office had asked the county to apply for a grant to put more officers in schools.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
BEDFORD — The Bedford County Board of Supervisors spent much of its meeting talking about the presence of police officers in schools, but it was the officers present at the meeting who left disappointed.
The supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday night to reject a proposal by the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office to pursue a Department of Justice grant that would fund up to three school resource officers at the county’s elementary schools.
Tuesday’s vote was the second time in about a month that supervisors have turned down a request from Sheriff Mike Brown’s office for more officers in schools. Last month, supervisors did not include Brown’s request for 16 officers in the county’s 2013-14 budget.
After the meeting, Brown said he was disappointed in the supervisors’ vote.
“They think too much about the dollars and not enough about the children,” he said.
Brown pleaded his case to supervisors, who also heard from the department’s grants writer, Robin Sundquist, and Capt. Tim Hayden, who oversees the sheriff’s office community services department.
Brown and the others had a lengthy discussion with supervisors, a couple of whom said that they had not had time to fully read the proposal, which they received just before the meeting, and a deadline for submission is just over a week away. They questioned why they did not know about the grant earlier.
Brown’s initial request for 16 officers would have cost the county about $800,000. Tuesday’s request was to approve the application for a grant of about $463,000 from the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. The grant would have been for three years and would have required a matching grant from the county, as well as full funding for a fourth year. The county’s commitment over those four years would have been about $275,000.
That price tag, along with uncertainty of whether or not the county would be on the hook to continue the program and pay the officers after the grant expired, was too much for the supervisors to approve.
“The problem with grants is that it puts the fourth year on our backs,” said Roger Cheek, District 3 supervisor. “That weighs heavily on my decision on this.”
Board Chairman Steve Arrington’s request for a motion was met with a lengthy silence until Cheek moved to deny the request. The rest of the board — John Sharp, Annie Pollard, Tammy Parker, Bill Thomasson and Arrington — voted in favor of the motion, which meant the grant application was denied. Supervisor Curry Martin was sick and did not attend the meeting.
Before the vote, supervisors asked Brown if his office had any other resources or funds they could apply toward the matching commitment. Brown said that school resource officers could continue to use older vehicles and may be able to contribute weapons, but the department was short on “cold, hard cash.”
He also said that, even though the grant was for three officers, he expected the Justice Department might only fund one position in Bedford County, or perhaps none.
When Parker asked whether officers were truly necessary in elementary schools, Brown replied, “It would curl your hairs , the things that go on in elementary schools. And it’s things we can’t tell you,” due to the children being juveniles.
Brown’s original request for 16 officers had been made in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 first-graders and six adults dead, in addition to the shooter.
Arrington said that the board still considered school safety an important issue, and he told Brown that supervisors and law officials should devise a strategic plan for the schools.
“We are looking at greater need there and all over the place and having less revenue every year,” Arrington said. “Let’s sit down and have a discussion about what the need is.”
Brown said he welcomed such a meeting. Despite his disappointment, Brown said he sympathized with supervisors, who face requests for additional funding from many departments.
“I wouldn’t have their job for any amount of money,” he said. “I’m happy I don’t have to make the decision.”
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