Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews appeared at Tuesday’s Kershaw County Board of School Trustees meeting in a joint effort to discuss “rumors” regarding the future of school resource officers (SROs) in Camden schools. County SROs currently serve at Camden High School, Camden Middle School and the Continuous Learning Center.
Chair Mara Jones told the board she invited Matthews to discuss not only SROs at Kershaw County School District (KCSD) schools within the city of Camden, but rumors that town of Elgin schools would need to provide their own SROs in the future as well.
“I thought would be a good idea is for there to be a round table discussion … for us to have some dialogue,” Jones said in response to Matthews’ recent announcement that he would pull Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) SROs from city of Camden schools in order to put more deputies on the road.
During the school board meeting, Matthews said he is in favor of having SROs in the schools. He said the Camden Police Department (CPD) could take one officer off each of its shifts to fill SRO positions and still be “OK.” He said his responsibility to the entire county is to provide “effective and professional” law enforcement. Matthews said the KCSO responded to 43,000 calls during 2011 utilizing five or six-man shifts.
“We have greater distances to travel and I’m trying to come up with a way to get more officers on the road. (The) CPD has one officer per 2 square miles and the KCSO has one deputy per 125 square miles,” Matthews said, and then added a bit of criticism at the CPD. “Camden can’t decide what part of the city of Camden they want to police. You can’t be selective on the kind of law enforcement you want to enforce and that’s what they have done in this case.”
The primary responsibility of an SRO, Matthews said, is to be the first response during an active shooter situation. He suggested that if an active shooter targeted a Camden school, the SRO, whether it be a CPD officer or a KCSO deputy, would call CPD for back up.
“Why go through an outside agency? Let the Sheriff’s Office contact the police department, the police department responds. That is not the most efficient way to do it. The agency that responds to an active shooter situation, in my view, should be the agency that has the SRO in the school. There is no reason for a disconnect and right now we have a disconnect,” Matthew said.
KCSD Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan said he met with Matthews, Camden Mayor Jeffrey Graham and others at the ALPHA Center to discuss who would provide SROs to schools located in the city of Camden. Morgan said the meeting also included ALPHA Center Executive Director Paul Napper, Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter and KCSO Capt. Ed Corey. Graham said Thursday that the meeting took place on the morning of May 8; that evening, Kershaw County Council abandoned a plan that would have transferred the bulk of KCSO duties to a county police department.
When asked about the ALPHA Center meeting, Matthews agreed he attended.
Morgan said that during that meeting he was presented with the option of estimating how much it would cost for the CPD to provide SRO services. During an interview Thursday, Morgan said he forwarded those figures to Carpenter.
At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Matthews indicated he would like to meet further with the affected parties. He also said he would continue to provide SROs to city of Camden school if necessary.
“I would love to meet with Joe Floyd, Kevin Bronson and maybe Jeffrey Graham, County Council people, Frank, (Jones); let’s sit down like adults and let’s talk about this,” Matthews said. “This has got to be resolved. When it gets down to it, come August, if the city of Camden refuses to do it, I’m going to keep my guys there. I’m not going to let the schools not have resource officers, but I think it is the responsibility of the city of Camden to provide SROs for their schools. I’m going to do the right thing. By doing that I know I’ve shown the other side of my hand, but really it is their responsibility.”
In April, Matthews said he decided to pull SROs after reviewing his budget to look for ways to provide better assistance to Kershaw County residents. He said he decided he needed to use his resources more wisely.
Thursday, Camden City Manager Kevin Bronson said the CPD would need to hire three additional officers in order to provide SROs in Camden schools.
“We are not willing to compromise the level of service we provide to Camden,” Bronson said after agreeing that KCSO deputies have a larger territory to cover and the CPD has more officers per square miles.
Bronson said although he, personally, has not met with Matthews or the school board, he confirmed that he presented Morgan with costs associated with having the CPD provide SROs.
“This is a matter of the service that a county agency provides to another county agency,” Bronson said. “The city has no business with it.”
Bronson and CPD Chief Joe Floyd both said that if the KCSO were to pull officers from Camden schools that the CPD would provide SROs to the KCSD for schools within Camden if the KCSD asked for its assistance.
Matthews said the CPD approved its budget before a sit-down meeting. Floyd agreed his department’s budget had been approved, but expected that funds for city SROs would come from the KCSD and not out of the CPD’s budget.
Bronson said it would cost $188, 225 for the first year of CPD SRO services and $164,225 for each additional year. The CPD previously provided SROs to Camden schools, under a grant, where the city was reimbursed, Bronson said. The KCSO took over the duty while Sheriff Steve McCaskill was in office. Neither Matthews nor Bronson were 100 percent sure as to why the switch was made. Matthews said the CPD “decided they didn’t want to do it anymore, and Sheriff McCaskill said he would do it, but there was an additional fund that was provided for him to do that.”
Bronson said McCaskill agreed to do so since he was providing SROs to other KCSD schools and he, in turn, got the funding.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Trustee Jim Smith said, uncertainly, that the KCSO “wanted to back it.”
“It comes down to an issue of taxation,” Bronson said.
In order for the city to pick up the SRO tab, Bronson said Camden would need to raise taxes. Taxes Bronson said Camden residents are already paying to the county for KCSO services.
Trustee Dr. Donald Copley said the main reason he wants the KCSO to continue providing SROs is because of the quality of service they provide. He said parents feel safer because they know KCSO deputies are in their schools.
“We are a county-wide school system and the only county-wide law enforcement we have is the Sheriff’s (office),” Copley said. “Having said that, I feel like half of the students at Camden Middle School and High school are not residents of the city of Camden. Sixty percent of the kids that go to Jackson live out of the city and they all go Camden Middle and Camden High. For me it doesn’t seem right for me to pay county taxes and then have city tax money protect my kids. They deserve the same quality of protection. There isn’t a Camden school system and a county school system.
“(Funding) isn’t something that I want to get into, whether it’s the county funding the schools to pay for services, or whether it’s the county earmarking funds that they give you guys (KCSO) to provide services or the other choices, but we need the services because that’s what makes people comfortable.”
Even if the school district had to pay, Copley said he would want to fund SROs through the KCSO.
Smith said he agreed with everything Copley said but that “everybody should get together and fund it.”
“A little dip out of everybody can go into an already short budget. If we are going to talk about it let’s talk about everything,” Smith said.
Trustee Nissary Wood asked Matthews if the decisions to remove Camden SROs would “trickle down to the town of Elgin.”
Matthews said that would not happen, but Wood said she was still worried about the possibility.
“The perception is you did it to Camden unexpectedly … it looked as if it was a political move. You are saying right now that you are not going to do that to the town of Elgin,” Wood told Matthews. “How do we know when you are going to decide to do that, because it is an uncertainty and it makes the people feel very uncomfortable, not to mention how our children felt when those SROs were pulled.”
Matthews said he if he was a parent that he would be comforted to know that there was a police officer or a sheriff’s deputy in the school where his child attended; still, he said, he has to look at the overall needs of the county.
The Applied Technology Education Center, known as ATEC, had its SRO removed earlier this year and North Central High School saw its SRO replaced. Matthews told the board he is going to change SROs as he sees fit. Matthews promised, however, to keep a deputy in the city of Elgin because the Elgin Police Department (EPD) “cannot handle it.”
“EPD doesn’t have the personnel,” he said.”
During an interview Wednesday, and also during the board meeting, Matthews said he thinks Kershaw County is the only county where the school district does not partially or fully fund SROs. The only problem with that line of funding, he said, is that the school district uses the officer in ways that are not necessarily agreed upon in the contract.
Jones said during the meeting that the KCSD will use the SRO job description from the National Association of School Resource Officers.
Wednesday, Morgan said SROs are essential in the this day and time.
“I can’t prove prevention, but I want to be in the mindset of how can we prevent things and I think SROs fall right into that,” Morgan said.
In other news:
• The board unanimously voted to allow the KCSD apply for $2,377,987 in federal grants for Title I and and $34,163 in federal funds for Title II. Title I funds are used to support literacy efforts and Title II are used for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).
• The board voted unanimously to approve the budget as is, on the condition that the Senate’s budget is passed as expected. If it is not the board will review the budget.
• Trustee Joey Dorton and Vice-Chair Kim Horton DuRant were unable to attend the board meeting.