Sheriff’s candidate unveils his ‘secret’ plan for SROs

Published 1:58 pm Wednesday, October 28, 2015

By Diana McFarland

News editor

Eighteen part-time deputies driving their own cars will be deployed to Isle of Wight County’s schools to protect students as school resource officers if sheriff candidate J. Russell Stephenson is elected to office.

Stephenson decided to unveil his formerly secret plan before the election, after all.

Stephenson wants to hire retired and certified officers and veterans to serve as part-time deputies who would work eight hours each day in the schools and be available to man football games and other events — and the money is already in the budget, he believes.

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Isle of Wight incumbent Sheriff Mark Marshall said the plan is unworkable and wonders if Stephenson’s plan is “a deliberate misrepresentation or does he just not understand public budgeting?” 

“His secret plan revealed is nothing but a bust. It will not work,” Marshall said. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

To hire 18 part-time deputies, as yet uncertified, would cost $21,000 a year each just for salaries, for a total of $378,000, according to Isle of Wight County spokesman Don Robertson.

That does not include overtime, uniforms, bulletproof vests, body cameras, weapons or training, according to Robertson.

On top of that, hiring certified officers cost more in salaries, Robertson said.

In addition to salary, the cost to outfit a new deputy with uniforms, a weapon and other equipment is about $4,440, according to the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office.

However, Stephenson is unsure of what to do with the three current full-time SROs already on the payroll.

“That decision will be made once I win the election. A full needs analysis will be done at that time,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson said the money is in the budget now for the 18 part-time deputies and lies within the line items for uniforms and other categories.  If the SROs drive their own cars, that will save money, he said.

Stephenson plans to use that money, as well as grants, to make up the difference.

He plans to begin hiring the 18 part-timers in January, if elected.

“It’s all in the current budget and I can’t imagine our Board of Supervisors not wanting our schools safer especially since it’s already budgeted,” Stephenson said.

Robertson said that could work in theory, perhaps, but the county has hiring policies concerning full-time and part-time employees.

For example, two part-time employees equal one full-time, Robertson said.

In the case of Stephenson’s plan, 18 part-time employees would be nine full time employees, according to the policy.

Robertson said any change to the total number of full-time employees in the current budget would require approval from the Board of Supervisors.

Meanwhile, there is currently $73,440 in the fiscal 2016 budget for strictly part-time workers, but that won’t go far if they have to be paid at an hourly rate of $19 – $30, Robertson said.

He could move money from one budget line item to another without Board approval, as long as the total amount doesn’t change, Robertson said.

The current Sheriff’s Office budget for fiscal 2016 is  $3.9 million. Of that, $2.1 million was budgeted for salaries and wages, and does not include fringe benefits or overtime.

Stephenson said he would also rely on grants, but Marshall said his department got an SRO grant and the Board of Supervisors didn’t want to provide the match, nor did it want to agree to retain those SROs hired for three years as a result of the grant.

There are not a lot of grants out there for 18 deputies, Marshall said.

Stephenson said the SROs would provide positive role models and “meet with parents, teachers and school officials and help provide referrals assisting in all aspects of child-related problems.”

Marshall said his SRO’s were carefully selected and then went through school resource certification training. The job is not only about law and order, but includes education, relationship building and acting as a liaison between parents and teachers, he said.

“It’s a big job and we’re very selective about who goes in those positions,” Marshall said.

At one time there were full-time SROs in all nine Isle of Wight County schools. After Marshall was elected in 2012, he decided to pull the SROs out of the elementary schools in order to put more deputies on patrol. Part of the reason was an increase in vacancies that occurred after the election and defeat of long-time Sheriff C.W. “Charlie” Phelps.

At the time, it was reported that Isle of Wight County was the only county in Virginia to employ full-time school resource officers in its elementary schools.

Today, out of the 1,154 Virginia elementary schools, 43 of those have full-time SROs and 324 have part-time SROs, according to a preliminary report on the 2014-15 school year by the Virginia Center of School and Campus Safety, which falls under the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

The number of elementary schools are counted by actual separate buildings rather than measures used by the Virginia Department of Education, said Donna Michaelis, manager for the Virginia Center of School and Campus Safety.

Currently in Isle of Wight County, three full-time SROs are assigned to Smithfield high and middle schools and Windsor High School and Georgie D. Tyler Middle School. In addition, deputies check all schools regularly, and last year, made more than 800 school checks. {/mprestriction}