Galax to add elementary resource officer

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The city will hire a retired officer to increase security at school


Members of the Galax City Council unanimously approved a plan for a part-time resource officer at Galax Elementary School at their meeting on Jan. 14.
The proposal was presented by Police Chief Rick Clark, who expressed his desire to increase school security to better protect the children of the community.
“I see an opportunity to enhance the security [at the elementary school],” said Clark.
Almost immediately after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut made the news, Clark was contacted by city leaders and Schools Superintendent Bill Sturgill to discuss an enhanced security plan for the schools.
“It is a blessing to work in a community where people pull together,” he said. “When I went looking for Bill Sturgill, he was already looking for me.”
In the immediate weeks following the Connecticut shootings, police presence was heightened throughout Galax, Carroll County and Grayson County schools, which spawned an outpouring of gratitude from anxious parents.
“At least 30 parents thanked me, others thanked the city,” said Sturgill. “We were all nervous after an event like that. It was a good decision to have officers there.”
In the meantime, Sturgill and Clark have worked together and with their respective departments to create a long-term plan for protecting the students.
“We have a full-time resource officer at the high school and middle school, but not at the elementary school,” he said.
Clark explained to the board his vision to employ a retired police officer for the position. “I wouldn’t put a fresh officer there. It takes a person time to get a feel for their job,” he said, noting that the rate of retirement over the last two years would give him a good pool of officers to choose from.
Clark also wants to make sure that the officer is familiar with the area, and noted that many of the police department’s employees are graduates of the Galax school system.
Council members asked if there was a possibility of employing another police officer and simply rotating them through the schools.
Clark said a rotation of officers would take care of security, but it would not provide a key relationship that could be established through the same officer consistently being placed on duty at the school. With this relationship established, students and faculty would feel more comfortable coming to that officer with a problem.
Vicky Taylor, the resource officer for the high and middle schools, is a good example, the chief said. “Taylor is more than an officer. It amazes me how many kids she knows by their first name.”
Vice Mayor Willie Greene agreed. “I have worked with Officer Taylor with activities outside of school, and I’ve witnessed kids showing her that same level of respect,” he said.
Clark also wanted to make sure that the officer had a sufficient amount of focus. “I want their undivided attention” on the school, he said.
Council Member Dr. Robert Lazo said he understood the need for a positive relationship, but shifted focus to security objectives. “Have things changed after Sandy Hook, as far as anyone walking in with a gun?” he asked, referring to the amount of force Taylor is instructed to use.
“Officers are trained to use deadly force if the situation calls for it,” Clark answered. “I will give the best that the city has to offer. I’m not hiring a security guard. This will be a professional police officer who will do their job and stand in harm’s way to protect these children.”
The discussion then turned to the costs of the project.
In the beginning, Clark explained that funding would have to cover initial costs to properly uniform the officer. He estimated these costs to total around $3,000.
For the fiscal year of 2013, estimated costs total $15,000, and approximately $25,000 for fiscal year 2014.
City Manager Keith Barker had suggested putting an additional $15,000 into the police department budget to cover the costs of this position, said Mayor C.M. Mitchell.
The board unanimously moved to approve Clark’s proposal and transfer the necessary funds.
After the approval, Katherine Jadlowe spoke up from the audience. “I am in full agreement with Chief Clark and Mr. Sturgill in whatever they want to do. We need to protect those children,” she said.

In other action, council:
• scheduled a public hearing for Jan. 28 to gauge community interest in the Urban Archery Program.
• approved a planning commission recommendation for a rezoning request on Glendale Road.
• approved a subdivision for Piedmont Properties so that Goodwill Industries could move forward with plans for a new building and relocation of the existing Goodwill business to a lot on East Stuart Drive in Galax.
• approved a resolution supporting The Crooked Road’s request to be designated as a National Heritage Area. This will create eligibility for the organization to receive federal operational funding and other types of funding resources.
• approved a name registration requested by the Blue Ridge Crossroads Development Center, formally known as the Carroll-Galax-Grayson Regional Industrial Facilities Authority. The city attorney recommended trademarking BRCEDA. Per state code, RIFA was required to remain in the formal name of the organization.
• reviewed and approved four different calendars, including the City Council Meeting Calendar, the FY 2014 Budget Calendar, the City Holiday Calendar and City Trash Pickup Schedule, and the Festival Schedule and Road Closures.
• heard a presentation from a concerned citizen regarding trash on the sides of the road on certain streets in the city, such as Glendale Road.
Council Member Sharon Plichta entertained the possibility of scheduling a group cleanup event.