Commissioners vote 4-3 to fund 12 school resource officers for Beaufort County Schools 

Published 1:24 pm Thursday, December 21, 2023

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The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 in favor of funding 12 School Resource Officers (SROs) from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office for six months. They took the vote during a special called meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 20. 

Commissioners Ed Booth, Frankie Waters, John Rebholz and Randy Walker voted in favor; however, Commissioners Hood Richardson, Jerry Langley and Stan Deatherage voted in opposition. 

Funding for 12 SROs comes at a cost of $513,200 for six months and with it Hammonds can begin to recruit, hire and train deputies for the upcoming 2024-2025 school year. 

The next step in placing deputies in public schools is for the sheriff’s office and school board to agree on a memorandum of understanding. The sheriff’s office is expected to have a memorandum of understanding completed and sent to the school board by April 1. The memorandum of understanding will last for the next three years. 

Funding for SROs will be included in the sheriff’s office’s budget which is managed by Beaufort County Government and voted on by county commissioners. Beaufort County Schools will not pay the sheriff’s office like it does for current security provider, Allied Universal. Money that had been used to pay Allied Universal will now go to the sheriff’s office to offset an increase in its budget for SROs. 

The school system will also receive grant funding from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction for safety and security. This grant money will be used to help pay for the cost of SROs from the sheriff’s office. 

The logistics of placing 12 SROs in area public schools has been discussed since Oct. 18 when Hammonds announced his initial plan to phase in SROs in two groups of six deputies. The announcement was made at a joint meeting between the sheriff’s office, the commissioners and the Beaufort County Board of Education. Since then, Hammonds has announced a new plan to hire all 12 SROs by July 1 which is the same day Allied Universal’s contract with the school system ends. 

Each public school in Beaufort County is currently protected by a school resource officer from Allied Universal. The school district hired Allied Universal in 2018 shortly after previous Beaufort County Sheriff Ernie Coleman pulled deputies out of schools – citing differences between his office and county commissioners. 

Faith and trust in the Sheriff’s Office was a theme of Wednesday’s special called meeting. “I think as we sit here and consider this, there’s an issue of faith,” Commissioner John Reholz said, “an issue of if you believe that the sheriff’s gonna be able to meet those numbers or not. If you believe that then we need to go forward. I think if you have to have a little faith in the fact that our sheriff, our duly elected sheriff, has committed that he’s gonna have deputies in the schools…I personally think that as we’ve sat here and listened to all of this, that the sheriff is gonna be able to accomplish the task of getting these SROs and getting the personnel there.” 

Some commissioners expressed concerns about Hammonds’ ability to hire 12 deputies at one time given the difficulty sheriff’s offices and police departments across the nation have experienced in hiring from a dwindling pool of new officers. 

Hammonds explained that his contingency plan is to hire internally within the sheriff’s office – deputies that are ready to attend SRO training. He also said there are opportunities for current Allied Universal officers to find employment with the sheriff’s office. Any remaining positions will be filled externally and qualified applicants will be evaluated. 

“I feel more confident tonight that we’re going to accomplish the mandate,” Hammonds said at the special called meeting. 

Commissioner Jerry Langley was not persuaded by Hammonds contingency plan saying he would not vote to fund 12 SROs, because, “in order to invest, I need to know for sure that the children and those teachers have the protection that the school board is looking for…Until you can satisfy me with that, I’m not gonna vote for it…But if you tell me a true plan, I don’t have a problem with it.” 

Though Commissioner Randy Walker voted for funding school resources officers, he would feel better if Hammonds could have at least eight deputies hired by April. At Walker’s request Hammonds agreed to provide monthly updates on how many deputies have been hired. 

Commissioner Ed Booth said voting for school resources officers was one of the hardest decisions of his life. Booth was not convinced Hammonds could hire 12 school resource officers, but still wanted to give him an opportunity to make those hires. “My problem is, what are we gonna do if this thing doesn’t materialize and we have gotten rid of Allied,” Booth asked.  

One of Commissioner Hood Richardson’s concerns was if Hammonds would remove a school resource officer from a school in the event of a “serious emergency” that required additional assistance from deputies. 

To this Hammonds said, “It is not in the plan to pull of any deputy from the school until that school is locked down and safe…The answer is no unless it has to be unless we’ve waited it out and the safety of the school is not compromised then if I make that decision as the sheriff, I’ll make that decision at the time it happens.” 

After the meeting, Superintendent of Beaufort County Schools Dr. Matthew Cheeseman said he’s “excited” to be working with the sheriff’s office. “We’re really excited and it’s a good thing for Beaufort County.” 

Attending the special called meeting were all members of the Board of Education to show county commissioners their support for Hammonds’ ability to hire 12 SROs.