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Houston County parents concerned about kids' safety despite incoming school resource officers

Captain Clay Chambers says middle schools will have one SRO, high schools will have two; and in addition, each SRO will be assigned secondary schools.

HOUSTON COUNTY, Ga. — The Houston County Sheriff's Office will be the only agency working the Houston County School District's student resource officer program next August.

13WMAZ published a story a few days ago explaining the latest on the program, but some parents are still concerned about the changes and security of school buildings.

The Houston County Board of Education approached Sheriff Cullen Talton about taking over all school resource officer positions in Houston County; and Sheriff Talton agreed, but there are some parents who don't believe that's enough to keep their child safe.

"Guns are being able to be brought onto campus," Tamika Simpkins said.

Simpkins is a mom of five and all her kids are in the Houston County School District. She says most days, she is concerned about their safety.

"We need metal detectors, honestly. These children have easy access to bring their weapons on campus. Our children are constantly in danger. When we ask about metal detectors you guys are more worried about the appearance of the school than the actual protection," Simpkins said.

The district recently decided to work with only one agency for the school resource officer program -- the Houston County Sheriff's Office. This means Warner Robins police officers won't patrol the halls of county schools, but the district says the change won't reduce the number of SROs.

"I don't know what the position is supposed to, but from what the kids are saying, it's not helpful," Simpkins said.

Captain Clay Chambers with the Houston County Sheriff's Office is in charge of the school division. In an email, he said, they currently have 11 SROs working in the district. Over the course of the next nine months, Chambers says 11 more SRO positions will be added, bringing the SRO Division to a total of 22 deputies. 

"OK, if you are going to have one right here and another right here and how many students go to the school?" Simpkins said.

Natasha Jones has three children in the district. She says she is concerned about their safety even with the incoming resource officers.

"So with officers being in the schools. That's great. We want to see that, because that shows they do care and it is protection, but it is not efficient enough. The safety of the kids is the most important thing and I don't feel like that's on their level of importance," Jones said.

Aside from the SRO Program, the school district said over the years they've made their buildings more secure, adding measures like security vestibules, cameras, and a districtwide emergency alert system.

"I come from an area where they have less crime and the schools have implemented different procedures and policies to protect their children. I just really hope someone out there understands our frustration as parents, because we send the children to school to learn. When you start caring more about the appearance and only the sports part of it, it kind of really disturbs me," Simpkins said.

Jones and Simpkins both say other parents are concerned just like them. They also say they were not notified about the SRO program changes.

Chambers says middle schools will have one SRO, high schools will have two SROs; and in addition, each SRO will be assigned secondary schools.

Chambers also told 13WMAZ they've already filled some of the school-resource positions with deputies now at the sheriff's office. But, those moves have opened up a couple of patrol jobs, so they're currently looking for patrol deputies.

The school district's Executive Director of School Operations, Dr. Walter Stephens, provided a statement Thursday:  

“The safety of our students and staff is the number one priority of the Houston County School District, and we continuously evaluate and strengthen the security procedures at each of our schools. Over the years, we’ve made our buildings more secure by expanding the number of School Resource Officers (SRO) on site, adding secured vestibules and security cameras to each of our schools, and investing in a districtwide emergency alert system that will quickly notify law enforcement of a security threat on campus. In addition, we’ve made site-based security improvements to include additional fencing, lighting, and access control.

It’s vital that our schools always operate through the lens of safety.  Even without an incident, our classrooms doors stay locked, and visitors are required to check-in with the front office staff upon arrival. We will continue to make additional upgrades as recommended by our District Safety Team and our law enforcement partners.”


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