By Brandon Martin
Unlike a few localities in Virginia, the Henry County Board of Supervisors would like to add more School Resource Officers (SROs), if funding permits.
“I want to see one in every school,” said Tommy Slaughter, of the Reed Creek District and a retired Martinsville City Police officer.
Currently, $352,566 is set aside in the school’s budget for SROs.
“I definitely think they should not be removed.” Slaughter said, and added that beyond his own history in the police department, the issue also is personal to him since his son, T.J. Slaughter, previously worked as an SRO and now is the director of school safety in Martinsville City Schools.
“He was a father to so many kids that would talk to him,” Slaughter said of his son, adding that the presence of SROs “goes a long way to break down the stigma of the uniform.”
Vice chairman Debra Buchanan, of the Horsepasture District, said she also favors adding more SROs, if funding allows.
“School resource officers are very important,” she said. “Their presence helps drive home that people in (uniform) are there to help you. They are not the bad guy.”
With a background in education, Dr. J. David Martin, of the Iriswood District, said that he is an advocate for SROs.
“They serve as models for our young kids as people they can go to for support,” he said. “It’s as simple as them being able to pull on a pant leg and have someone to talk to.”
Martin said that SROs provide teachers and staff with support as well. “That’s why we call them that. They are a resource to the school,” he added.
Board chairman Jim Adams said that for parents, “it puts a lot of minds at ease” when an SRO is present at a school. “We need a presence in the schools. It has been shown in the past that it is something that is good for the community. It’s another set of eyes. They are a good example for young people.”
Adams said his grandson studied criminal justice and now works at the sheriff’s office – a decision Adams attributes in part to the early influence of law enforcement in schools.
Ridgeway Supervisor Ryan Zehr said that he also remembers having a good relationship with his resource officer.
Zehr said the decision to potentially add more officers is something that the schools should look into, but he does not believe removing them “is something our area is looking to pursue.”
Joe Bryant, supervisor of the Collinsville District, echoed that support.
“I’m all in favor of school resource officers. Point blank,” he said, adding that in modern times, where school shootings occur more often, SROs are direly needed. Additionally, he said if SROs didn’t have the role, then teachers would have to train to combat those types of incidents.
Likewise, Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry said that SROs are needed to ensure safety in the schools.
“They stop assaults and other types of crimes that could send some of these kids down a bad path,” he said. “They (SROs) are imperative for the institutions. I have seen over time, students grow to really appreciate and like their school resource officers.”
Monica Hatchett, director of Communications & Organizational Learning for Henry County Schools, said there are five SROs — based at Bassett, Fieldale-Collinsville, Magna Vista, Laurel Park, and the Center for Community Learning.
Additionally, officers service the elementary schools on an as needed basis, according to Hatchett. She added that “patrol officers from both the Henry County Sheriff’s Office as well as the Virginia State Police make regular visits to each elementary school,” as well as the lieutenant who coordinates the SRO program and does routine visits.