“I personally am a direct result of SROs,” Holland said. “My father died when I was very young. Because of the officers who worked in my school, who could have taken me to the curb, they were there for me. I looked up to them and said, ‘I want to be like you.’”
Holland achieved that dream, and as sheriff he’s made SRO positions a top priority, even as the recession has cut the wiggle room out of county budgets.
Today, eight of Macon County’s 11 public schools have one. The latest to join the list was Nantahala School, where an SRO position has just been added, thanks to a state grant.
Nantahala is a K-12 school, and at 45 minutes away from Franklin, its rural location makes it important to have someone on site to respond in an emergency situation, Holland said.
The School Resource Officer Matching Grant providing $39,722 for the SRO, contingent on a one-third match from the county of $18,185. That’s $26,000 short of the full $84,000 cost of adding a position, a figure that includes salary, training and a patrol car. However, Holland told county commissioners last month that he’ll make it work.
“I’ll find that in my current budget,” he said. “I’ll find a vehicle. It may be a dilapidated vehicle, but I’ll find a vehicle.”
The grant, which the school district obtained from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, will only last for one year. Presumably, the county would have to pick up the tab after that.
“This is a goal we’ve had for a long time,” Commissioner Ronnie Beale said in support of school resource officers. One county commissioner, Paul Higdon, voted against it, citing the continued cost the county will have to absorb.
An SRO’s role is multi-faceted, Holland said, adding that it’s vital to have the presence in each school.
“A lot of people think it’s because of stopping an active shooter,” he said. “That’s just a small part of it.”
Having an officer there means that there’s somebody to give the quick response — most incidents last only two or three minutes — needed to stop a violent person, but the officer also provides a stable presence for students, gives advice on law enforcement issues, helps teachers handle student behavior issues and can be involved in prevention programs as well.
“I know the benefits of an SRO, because I’ve lived it,” he said. “I have said for many years my goal is to have an SRO in every school.”