School officer deal reached

COVINGTON - County commissioners approved an agreement Tuesday night to provide school resource officers to the Newton County School System.

Under the agreement, resource officers will be employees of the county supplied by the Newton County Sheriff's Office, but the school system will be responsible for paying their salaries.

Currently, resource officers are independent contractors working directly for the school system. The Sheriff's Office has had a "handshake agreement" with the school system since the early '90s to allow off-duty officers to patrol the schools, Sheriff Joe Nichols told commissioners. But growth in recent years has warranted some changes, he said.

"They are big enough to have their own school police department, but they chose not to go that route," Nichols said.

The school system is planning to use 17 resource officers for the 2008-09 school year, including one at each middle school and between two and three at each high school and Sharp Learning Center, as well as a roaming officer. The total cost for salaries and benefits is $839,056.

Newton County will open a special funds account so all revenue received by the school system and expenses by the county are clearly recorded.

The agreement, which was approved by the school board in June, will be effective for three years, but can be modified annually.

Superintendent Steve Whatley said the school system can later look into expanding the program if there is a need.

According to operating procedures laid out in the agreement, the goal of the school resource officer program is to prevent and investigate crimes, provide security and establish a positive relationship between the Sheriff's Office, school system, students, parents and the community.

Resource officers will only get involved in incidents involving criminal activity at the request of school officials.

The officers will be required to complete an 80-hour school resource officer course within the first 12 months of employment, and must receive at least 120 hours of additional training each year that includes specialized training related to the assignment.

Staff Reporter Michelle Floyd contributed to this story.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.