By C. Josh Givens
The Hancock County School Board has approved a contract for school resource officers with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department. The approval was made Monday evening.
Deputy Chris DeJarnette said the Sheriff’s Department and district is fortunate to have hired two highly-qualified candidates.
Sheriff Dale Bozarth has hired Mark Powers and Frank Howard to fill two of the three additional positions. One position remains open, and Deputy Butch Garst will continue in his role in Hancock County schools.
“With these two fine law enforcement officers and Deputy Garst, the SRO program already has more than 90 years of experience among them,” DeJarnette said. “These officers have seen nearly everything in their careers, and as experienced officers, they are more attuned to picking out potential problems and red flags.”
Powers is a former Hawesville Police Department chief, and spent 20 years with the Owensboro Police Department.
The need to provide SROs comes following the passage of a law in the General Assembly requiring an officer in each public school building in the state. Districts across the state have scrambled to find qualified officers for the roles, DeJarnette said, and he considers the community fortunate to have found experienced professionals.
Superintendent Robbie Asberry said partnering with the Sheriff’s Department will allow the SROs to have countywide jurisdiction in the event they are needed, though the school system will cover salaries, vehicles, weapons, and needed police equipment. Annual costs to the district will be around $160,000, though there will some one-time costs to get the program off the ground.
“We estimate about $2,000 per officer to equip and arm them,” Asberry said. “The vehicles are a bit different because there is not that much availability out there right now. We have made contact with a dealer on some Dodge Chargers, but those vehicles have not been purchased.”
Boardmember Donna Quattrocchi said she believed providing ample security in the schools is “one of the most important things (the Board) can do for schools and students.”
“I feel this is not only about security but also providing an additional positive role model for students,” she said. “Sometimes students will go to an officer with things before a staff member.”
The Sheriff’s Department will oversee training and certification matters for the SROs. DeJarnette said the state-mandated training is a three-phase process, which is completed over the course of two to three years.
Training is provided at the Department of Criminal Justice Training on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond.
“DOCJT is a bit behind in accommodating the needs right now, so they’re making moves to increase capacity,” he said. “With every district now needing multiple officers, it puts a strain on the system, but I believe they are very close to figuring it all out.”
He said training for the officers will likely take place in the summer or during school breaks. Unlike Garst, Powers and Howard will not work the roads of Hancock County as deputies during the summer break for Hancock schools.