Shelby County School Task Force announces safety plan for schools

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell brought all the stakeholders together:  educators, law enforcement, the District Attorney, the U.S. Attorney, even a school security expert.  The group met three times and on Thursday, March 22, the mayor's task force released its preliminary recommendations on how to improve school safety.

"It was important we do this quickly," Mayor Luttrell said at the start of Thursday's presentation.

He formed the task force after 17 people died in the Florida school shooting in mid-February.

One month and three meetings later, some basic recommendations were presented to the media.

The hyper focus on school security can't come soon enough, said Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson.  His students are still shaken by recent events.

"I had an opportunity to meet with about 15 students yesterday just to see how they're feeling," said Hopson, "and they're not in a good place right now."

Among the task force recommendations:  reviewing the district's existing school safety practices and policies.  Additional active shooter drills will take place.  Locking school doors, limiting access to school buildings, and using metal detectors at entry and exit points are all actions being re-emphasized.  But one thing stands out.

"The research shows," said Hopson, "that our students feel more safe when there are more SROs."

An SRO is a School Resource Officer--the first line of defense students trust most.  Shelby County Schools has 60 Shelby County Sheriff's Deputies and 98 district guards, for a total of 158 armed officers.  The district has 207 schools and 110,000 students.  Any school with a student population greater than 1,000 has, at minimum, 2 assigned SROs.

SCS Security Chief Gerald Darling has an $11 million security budget that, he said, hasn't budged.

"Our budget on that has been static the last seven to eight years," he said.

Chief Darling wouldn't say no to more officers in the schools.  He would say no to arming teachers.  Superintendent Hopson is not in favor of that either, telling the task force "it's not a very good idea."  The sheriff's department echoes a similar statement.

"I do not agree with it," said SCSO Chief Deputy Floyd Bonner.  "Teachers became teachers to teach and I do not think they should be security officers."

Another recommendation the task force pushed: getting the community involved in protecting students.

"Remember that if you see something," said Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, "to say something."

"We didn't come into this to reinvent the wheel," said Mayor Luttrell, "much of what we're saying isn't new.  This is a reminder of the responsibility each of us has to keep our children safe."

Final recommendations from the task force are expected next week.

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