By State Rep. Craig Ford
Now that school has started back, a lot of attention has been given to the issue of school safety and security.
Concerns over school safety and, particularly, the possibility of a mass shooting are nothing new. Though the Columbine massacre that happened nearly 20 years ago was not the first school shooting, it became the first in a wave of shootings that have plagued this country right up to the shootings in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, N.M., just a few months ago.
That’s why most school systems throughout Alabama used the summer months to improve school safety by tapping into funds that the state legislature unearmarked earlier this year.
Most of those security improvements have come in the form of locks, cameras, metal detectors and other measures to secure entry points into the schools.
These are all good and necessary measures that can save lives, and I’m proud to have supported the legislation that freed the fund to pay for these things. But not every school has been able to increase its security or benefit from these funds. And the ones that have could, in many cases, still be vulnerable if an attacker were able to shoot their way past these locked doors and metal detectors.
To address that concern, Gov. Kay Ivey announced this summer that until every school could have a resource officer, she would begin allowing some school administrators to undergo training and store firearms on campuses.
Regardless of where any of us stand on the idea of arming teachers (and I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and one of only four lawmakers in the entire state with an A+ rating from the NRA), I think we all can agree that the best solution is to have a properly trained SRO officer in every school.
And that is no small challenge, because as of right now, one out of every four public schools in Alabama does not have a security officer or school resource officer (SRO).
So how do we get an SRO officer into every school?
To start, it will take the state and local governments working together to make it happen. While state resources are available, those re-sources are limited. At the same time, not every local city and county government has the funds to pay for an SRO officer in every school. So, we will all have to work together and share the costs in order to make it happen.
Another option available to us that could help put an SRO officer in every school and, at the same time, solve the problem of sheriffs getting to keep excess jail food money would be to pass a state law that would require any excess funds from the jail food budget be specifically earmarked for hiring and training SRO officers.
That is a bill I plan to introduce in the state senate if I am elected in November.
We also need to work with local law enforcement to hire off-duty or retired law enforcement officers, and possibly retired military veterans (once they had been approved and certified by the local sheriff or police chief), to help fill the gap. Some of these officers and veterans may even be willing to volunteer their time. So, we need to work with local law enforcement to see if this is possible and what it would take to make it happen.
Most of all, we need to step up our support at the state level. If the education budget continues to grow, then at least some of those funds need to go to Pre-K and SRO officers.
But perhaps the best way we can free up more funds for SRO officers would be to pass a state lottery and split the proceeds between college scholarships and SRO officers. The most recent estimates say that a state lottery could generate at least an additional $250 million dollars a year. For that amount of money, we could hire a lot of SRO officers and send a lot of kids to college.
There are many options out there, and some may be better than others. Other lawmakers and candidates may have more ideas as well about how we could find the money to make sure every school has an SRO officer.
But however we choose to fund it, every lawmaker and candidate for public office should agree that putting an SRO officer in every school should be a top priority in the 2019 Legislative Session.
Craig Ford represents Gadsden and Etowah County in the Alabama House of Representatives. He currently is running for the State Senate in District 10 as an Independent.