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Second school officer sought: Both fall hopefuls back 2nd SRO

0526918 Camden SRO

Camden Sheriff's Deputy Mike Lawrence watches as students at Camden County High School head toward school buses for their ride home, Friday. Lawrence is currently the Camden County Sheriff's Office's only full-time school resource officer. The current sheriff and the two candidates bidding to succeed him all support finding the funding to hire a second full-time SRO.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Monday, May 28, 2018

CAMDEN — Regardless of who wins the Camden sheriff’s election this November, the sheriff’s office is likely to continue assigning a second deputy to help provide security at the county’s five schools.

Both Republican candidate Kevin Jones and Democrat candidate Rick Trevena say they support Sheriff Rodney Meads’ decision to devote a second sheriff’s deputy to part-time duties as a school resource officer, or SRO, and his budget request for an additional full-time SRO.

Meads formally presented his request for funding for a second SRO position to the Camden Board of Commissioners at the board’s May 22 work session.

“Yes, I am asking for another SRO,” Meads told commissioners. “Signs of the times says I need one.”

Meads, who lost the Republican primary to Jones on May 8, acknowledged he will only be the county’s sheriff for another six and a half months. That’s the time left on the unexpired term of former Sheriff Tony Perry, whom he was appointed in February to replace.

“But it’s still needed whether I’m here or not,” Meads said, referring to the additional school resource officer.

Currently the district employs one full-time SRO, Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Lawrence. After taking over from Perry, Meads began using a second deputy-— Mike Voliva — as a part-time SRO, assigning him duties at the county’s schools as well as his normal patrol duties.

Trevena said he fully supports Meads’ request for another school resource officer.

“Not only do I support that — we need a resource officer in every school,” Trevena said.

Trevena said the Camden County Sheriff’s Office is overdue for a manpower study.

“We haven’t had a manpower study in more than a decade,” Trevena said. “The current staff is not adequate. We need adequate funding for the department.”

Having only one school resource officer to cover all five schools in Camden is not adequate, Trevena said.

Trevena said he appreciates Meads’ decision to place an additional deputy in Camden schools part-time. But that part-time SRO is not a substitute for having a school resource officer in every school, he said.

“Although it’s genuine in nature it’s a Band-Aid approach,” Trevena said.

Ultimately the best way to make schools safer is through community policing, having all deputies active in the schools and having the deputies active in the community, interacting with young people, Trevena said.

Jones, who defeated Meads in the GOP sheriff’s primary, also backs Meads’ call for funding an additional SRO in the county’s 2018-19 budget.

“Yes, I would support the county hiring another school resource officer,” Jones said. “Also I am aware we do live in a small county and it takes money to fund these things.”

Balancing the needs and the funding is a challenge, Jones said. But he believes adding an SRO “should be an easy sell to the taxpayers of Camden County — getting them on board, showing them the need for it.”

Jones said he would like to have an SRO stationed at every school. He’d also like to employ four or five more road deputies.

“But I think the citizens should have some say in it because they’re the ones paying for it,” he said.

Jones said if the county obtains grants to hire resource officers those grants likely will end after a couple of years. The practical effect of that, he said, would mean county officials — the sheriff’s office, the school board and county commissioners — having to come up with a plan to permanently finance those positions.

Jones said he would favor the use of armed volunteers in the schools as long as they were adequately trained. At the very least they would need to be state-certified law enforcement officers and qualified with a sidearm, he said.

“The bottom line is, when you put firearms in a school that is full of kids you are upping the civil liability for the county and the school system by a great deal if people are not well-trained in the function and the operation of that firearm,” Jones said.

Teachers also should be trained in first aid for emergencies and students should be trained in what to look for and encouraged to come forward if they know about a potential threat, Jones said.

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