Obama's 'SRO' order already proven effective
It's not one of the more controversial elements of President Obama's gun control proposal, but it is among those that makes the most sense.
"Give local communities the opportunity to hire up to 1,000 school resource officers (SRO) and counselors" is one of the 17 executive orders the president revealed as part of his administrative efforts to stem gun violence.
The federal government would provide funding to hire the SROs. And as we've learned locally, that would be money well spent.
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As detailed in Wednesday's edition, Mount Carmel Area (MCA) School District has a SRO who spends 90 percent of his time at the junior-senior high school, with occasional visits to the nearby elementary school. The cost of the officer was split over the past three years between the district and grant funding from the state, but that money ran out Dec. 31. The school board - in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre - wisely decided to continue the SRO program, at least on a month-to-month basis.
Under the new arrangement, the district will pay for the officer's time during school months, about $30,000, while Mount Carmel Township will fund the officer's position during summer months, costing about $12,000. While $30,000 shouldn't be dismissed as insignificant, it's affordable, even for one of Pennsylvania's poorest school districts.
Meanwhile, Shamokin Area, which once had a SRO but cut the position after grant funding expired, says it will install metal detectors at its four district buildings for the 2013-14 school year. That is another relatively inexpensive step ($16,400), but we believe the district should also consider a SRO for its middle-high school, and maybe even use the metal detector money toward that cost instead.
As is the case with MCA, Shamokin Area could share the SRO cost with the district's host municipality, Coal Township. Or better yet, as we suggested for MCA, the cost could be shared with all of the municipalities that are part of the school district. Then again, cost could be a moot point if the president's SRO funding reaches Northumberland County.
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As is promoted by the National Association of School Resource Officers, the concept of school-based policing divides an SRO's responsibilities into three areas: teacher, counselor and law enforcement officer. That's exactly how it's working at MCA, where SRO Brian Carnuccio, educators and students agree his presence, beyond security, has served as a deterrent to in-school drug, alcohol and tobacco use and behavioral problems. And, Carnuccio serves as a role model, mentor and readily available "ear" for young people.
As such, the concept of "school resource officer" is broader, less intimidating and less politically charged than "armed guard."
It's interesting that one of the other executive orders proposed by Obama is to "provide training for state and local law enforcement, first responders and school officials on how to handle 'active-shooter situations.'" SRO Carnuccio already is "active-shooter" trained.
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While the more controversial aspects of Obama's plan - banning military-style assault weapons, limiting the size of ammunition magazines and requiring universal background checks - face a tough, if unwinnable, congressional and public fight, providing funding for school resource officers is a doable and effective deterrent to violence in schools. And isn't that what elevated the gun-control conversation back to national prominence in the first place?