ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — In the wake of Tuesday’s mass shooting in Texas, WFXR News spoke with Roanoke Valley law enforcement about how readily available school resource officers (SROs) are in case of an emergency.
On Wednesday, May 25, Roanoke City Sheriff Antonio Hash made a passionate promise during a vigil at ReFreshing Church honoring the 21 lives lost in the Texas elementary school shooting.
“As long as I’m in this position, I am going to fight to put more SROs in the schools,” said Hash, who served as an SRO earlier in his law enforcement career.
The Roanoke Sheriff’s Office provides nine SROs to 17 elementary schools within Roanoke City Public Schools. Each SRO covers three campuses and will spend about 2.5 hours a day there.
“We can’t be everywhere at once,” Hash said.
The sheriff says he believes SROs not only help with children’s behavior and their relationships with law enforcement, but their presence stops outsiders who might want to cause harm.
“To see a marked vehicle outside the school is a deterrent,” he said.
However, none of Roanoke City’s 17 elementary schools has a constant SRO presence, just like in Roanoke County.
The Roanoke County Sheriff’s Office provides two deputies to 16 elementary schools, where the deputy spends about 20 to 30 minutes every day.
Those deputies visit at random times, so no one knows when they’ll show up, and Roanoke County Police can also look in on the elementary schools — but a phone call revealed that the police department currently only has enough SROs to staff the high school. Those officers look in on the middle school as well.
Capt. Chad Beheler at the Roanoke County Sheriff’s Office says they developed a plan in 2019 and presented it to the school district, offering as many SROs as they need as long as the school provides compensation.
“The plan was to hire some… part-time deputies that are law enforcement certified to supplement us in the schools,” said Beheler. “That would be anywhere from two to 16, however many that the school would actually want in the elementary schools. The only thing we would ask for is that they fund the part-time deputies.”
He says the district has yet to provide an answer on that offer.
WFXR News reached out to Roanoke County Public Schools, who said they cannot comment on ongoing discussions.
“If you feel like there should be an SRO at every school, as far as elementary, speak up,” said Beheler. “Go to your school board meeting, speak up.”
A Roanoke Valley mother, Patty Carroll, says her children are grown, but she can’t imagine being a parent sending a child to school nowadays.
“There’s two sides to any story, you know, and I can’t imagine a parent not wanting security at their child’s school,” Carroll told WFXR News.
Both Roanoke County Public Schools and Roanoke City Public Schools have posted resources on their websites to help parents speak with their children about traumatic events.
Several other school districts in southwest and central Virginia — including Pulaski, Amherst, and Highland counties — say they are working to increase law enforcement presence at schools.