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SRO presence to increase

Unicoi County students will return to school on Jan. 3 alongside five local law enforcement officers being assigned to work in each facility.
In response to the Newtown, Conn., shooting that resulted in the deaths of 20 children and six adults, local officials have created a plan to increase school security.
The increase in school resource officer (SRO) presence in Unicoi County schools has been a cooperative effort of all county municipalities and the school system, Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said.
“I’ve received support from the public and from officials,” Hensley said. “This is something that could not have been done without a team effort. I’ve been working with all entities.”
Currently the countywide plan is to station one Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department officer in each location of Temple Hill Elementary, Unicoi County High School and Unicoi Elementary, while two Erwin Police Department officers will each be stationed at the Intermediate and Middle school area and also Rock Creek Elementary.
Jason Tilson, who is a former SRO through the UCSD will join the EPD in January. Tilson said he will be stationed at the Intermediate and Middle school and a vacancy remains for the Rock Creek Elementary post.
Town of Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley said the town has committed to providing one SRO through the Erwin Police Department to be placed in the Intermediate School through the end of the fiscal year. An officer placed at Rock Creek Elementary school will be funded by the Unicoi County Board of Education, Hensley said.
“We’re going to have two additional officers inside of the town of Erwin, but the school system is going to fund the other one,” Hensley said.
Hensley said the Erwin Board of Mayor and Aldermen will vote on amending the town’s budget to accommodate the additional officer salary through the end of the fiscal year.
“We are going to be amending our budget,” Mayor Hensley said. “Mr. Trivette (the city recorder) has looked over the budget and it probably will come out of the fund balance. I did a telephone poll of our alderman and they have all agreed to amend the budget at our next meeting.”
Long-term funding for the officer will need to be addressed in future budget talks, Hensley said.
“I’m always in favor of being proactive instead of reactive,” Hensley said “I think with the situation our nation is in and with things that have happened on other campuses, we certainly want to do our due diligence in preventing that from happening in Unicoi County.”
Mayor Hensley said an additional officer was already requested by the Erwin Police Department. The officer’s duties during the summer would include covering for officers on vacation.
“They had already asked for an additional officer even before this happened,” Mayor Hensley said.
Erwin Police Department Chief of Police Regan Tilson said the agency is currently in the process of hiring an officer to place in Rock Creek Elementary school by the second week of January.
“We are going to hire, we haven’t yet, for that position,” Tilson said. “In the interim there will be somebody there. We are going to cover that school with guys from the road until we go through the applications.”
Tilson said the estimated cost to hire an officer is around $45,000 including benefits, uniforms and weapons. Certain training and physical requirements are necessary to obtain the position, Tilson said.
“Obviously this position is unique and we want to find the right person who is the right fit for the school,” Tilson said.
Sheriff Hensley said he is placing UCSD officer Josh Bailey in Unicoi Elementary, UCSD SRO supervisor Jimmy Erwin at Temple Hill and UCSD SRO Daniel Honeycutt will remain at Unicoi County High School.
Town of Unicoi Mayor Johnny Lynch said money for the full-time SRO to be placed in Unicoi Elementary will come from money already designated for the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department. A school resource officer was in the elementary school, but he was not full time, Lynch said.
“What we said we would do since we already have a certain amount of money budgeted in this year’s budget for the sheriff’s department, why don’t we just go ahead and take it out of that,” Lynch said. “This way we will finish out the school year and by then we will hopefully know a little bit more about this and have had discussions on how to remedy this situation.”
Lynch said he suspects that funding will come through from the federal or state level. There are also some debates about how local agencies should be handling the situation, he said.
“I’m sure there are going to be more discussions on a national level,” Lynch said. “We’ll probably revisit this later to see what else we can do. There might be money coming through the tubes from the federal government or somewhere else. It’s all sort of up in the air right now.”
Chief Tilson said he hopes to see the countywide support and funding continue for SRO in all of the county schools. He described the new SRO plan as a proactive step in protecting the county’s future.
“I hope it continues and I’m certain it will,” Tilson said. “I think as a police officer you can’t be everywhere all the time, however when we have something like the students in the schools, they are what we most definitely need to protect.
“With recent events, we saw there was a deficit there as we reviewed our policy, so together we have made a difference hopefully,” Tilson said. “I think this is going to be a very positive step in the protection of our schools for the teachers and the students.”

By Kayla Carter
Staff Writer
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