News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Municipalities must find ways to fund school safety

During the Clinton administration, the federal government established the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services with a goal of placing 100,000 additional police officers throughout the nation.

As part of the program, COPS granted $732 million between 1999 and 2004 to pay for Student Resource Officers in school buildings.

The grants paid officers' salaries for three years under the condition that municipalities pick up the tab for a fourth.

COPS in Schools funding peaked at $188 million between 2000 and 2003, but dropped to $5 million in 2005. The money was zeroed out of the 2006 budget and funding has not been restored.

The COPS program was not designed to be permanent. The intent was to help municipalities get a start in beefing up police forces, with the understanding that cities, counties and towns would eventually have to fully fund the additional manpower.

But with federal funds drying up, many municipalities have cut their support for the SRO program. That has forced school systems to choose between picking up the additional costs or making cuts.

The 1999 tragedy at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colo., focused the nation's attention on how vulnerable public schools are. And recent school violence in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Wisconsin remind us that our children need more protection from the evil that lurks outside — and sometimes makes its way inside — school walls.

Teachers have always provided a layer of protection, monitoring playgrounds, cafeterias, hallways and parking lots for signs of trouble. But teachers cannot replace the security or deterrent value provided by a uniformed police officer.

Municipalities and school systems must find ways to continue to fund SROs to help ensure children's safety. Whether through tax revenue or some kind of public-private partnership, the SRO program needs to continue.

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