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Reserve officers being used in Red Bay school

RED BAY – Law enforcement officials in Red Bay have stepped up security at Red Bay School thanks in large part to the school security bill that became law during the most recent legislative session.

House Bill 404, sponsored by Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow (D-Red Bay), allowed for the creation of a volunteer-based security force in Franklin County schools.

This would allow those with adequate training as specified in the legislation to be able to act as security officers at county schools where no school resource officer (SRO) is present.

Morrow said he drafted the bill as a response to his perceived lack of security in the county school system and the response time it would take for local law enforcement to respond to an emergency situation at several of the county schools.

Red Bay Police Chief Janna Jackson said she has had a patrol officer making rounds at Red Bay School for some time now, but if the officer had other duties to attend to, there would be no security presence at the school.

“This new law that was passed made it to where we would be able to utilize our reserve officers, who receive adequate law enforcement training through our police department,” Jackson said.

“We take school safety seriously, and as a city, we are making every effort to use available resources to make sure our school is a safe environment for students and faculty.”

Jackson said before the law was passed on May 20, reserve officers would not have been permitted to have a firearm on school grounds, but now a reserve officer is a viable option for providing security at schools like Red Bay who cannot afford to have an SRO.

“Starting this past Monday, we now have a reserve officer who will provide security for our school and he will rotate shifts with our regular patrol officers,” Jackson said.

“This will allow our school to be protected at all times by trained security personnel.

“This officer has been an active reserve with the Red Bay Police Department for three years, so he has all the necessary qualifications.

“We believe this will be a cost-efficient way to provide security and give parents a peace of mind that the school is being patrolled.”

Funding for the reserve officer to patrol the school grounds will come from the city of Red Bay so it will come at no cost to the cash-strapped county school system.

“I really appreciate the Red Bay Police Department and the city council for doing this for one of our county schools,” Superintendent Gary Williams said.

“Financially, there is no way the system can provide school resource officers at each school, so we appreciate their help in this area.

“I know that it will make all of our students, faculty, staff and parents feel safer when they are at school.”

As far as the other schools in the county go, Williams said the school system is still hoping to participate in the NRA School Shield Program, which would help train qualified volunteers to be part of a special school security force designed to protect the schools in emergency situations.

The Franklin County School Board voted 4-0 at their June 17 meeting to become one of the first school systems in the state to participate in the program.

“In our schools who don’t have a police department available to provide this type of security like we’re seeing at Red Bay, we’ll have to depend on volunteers who are willing to become adequately trained to be part of a school security force,” Williams said.

“We think the NRA’s School Shield Program is the best route to train any volunteers who are willing to be part of a school security force, but we have to wait until the program is finalized.”

Williams said he has been in touch with Michael Sullivan, a contract lobbyist for the NRA in Alabama who has been their point of contact for the School Shield Program.

“I talked with Michael about six weeks ago and he said the program was still not finalized but he would be sending us the necessary paperwork as soon as it is,” Williams said.

Sullivan said in June that the program has not been available to school systems in Alabama until the passage of HB404 making it possible for a person other than a school resource officer to carry a firearm inside a school building.
“The bill that Johnny Mack Morrow sponsored paved the way for us to be able to offer this program here in Alabama and the Franklin County School System will be one of the first in the state to be able to participate once it’s finalized,” Sullivan said.
“The School Shield Program is actually very similar to what Johnny Mack outlined in his bill, which is basically that if a school cannot afford a school resource officer, the NRA is willing to step in and provide the training for qualified individuals to be able to carry a firearm on campus for the protection of the students.”

“Ultimately, the safety of our students and faculty is what matters most, so I am glad that positive strides are being made in that direction,” Williams said.

“We will continue to work on this issue to make our schools as safe as they can be.”