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Officers train for school safety: Wilson one of few community colleges to offer in-service class

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School resource officers from across eastern North Carolina have begun a weeklong course to update their credentials at Wilson Community College.

“We have 50 officers and deputies from all over eastern North Carolina,” said Darlene Hall, the college’s director of law enforcement training.

As of October 2018, the state required that anyone serving as a school resource officer had to have obtained training directly from the North Carolina Justice Academy or a qualified community college program.

In the classroom Monday were deputies and police officers from Franklin, Lenoir, Beaufort, Nash, Pitt and Wilson counties as well as the municipalities of Middlesex, Kinston, Tarboro and Rocky Mount.

Wilson Community College, which has an established law enforcement training program, is one of a small group of community colleges to currently offer the SRO training.

“We’ve got them coming from all over the place,” Hall said. “It was so many that we capped this class at 50. I have set up second class for the week of Aug. 20 and I have got 20 in it already.”

Hall said there are between 1,200 and 1,500 school resource officers in the state.

“The majority has to take this training and it is just not available everywhere to take,” Hall said. “We are one of the first community colleges to get this training on board and get it running.”

The Wilson County Sheriff’s Office has 18 SROs, but Sheriff Calvin Woodard has asked his civil deputies to take the training as well.

Woodard said civil and warrant squad deputies visit every elementary school in Wilson County.

“I am very excited to get all of this started. I just want everybody to be trained, to understand that even though they don’t do the full thing like the other SROs that are in my middle schools and high schools, they are readily available,” Woodard said. “They make contact with the principals at the schools, not just any day but each and every day. We are trying to do whatever it takes to keep our schools safe, our children safe and make sure that children have a wonderful educational environment where they can learn without the fear of someone coming to harm them.”

Hall said about half of the 22 Wilson County deputies are enrolled in this week’s class, while the remainder will take the certification class in August.

“They kind of split it so everyone wasn’t missing at the same time,” Hall said.

Hall said the 40-hour course takes five days to complete and participants must pass an exam with 70% correct answers to gain certification.

“Since the justice academy is regulating this training now, they do have to take a commissioned exam at the end of the course and pass it,” Hall said. “That’s one of the big changes to the course. Previously, you sat down, you took a course and you went home. There was no way to gauge whether you actually absorbed the material that was presented. Now, they actually have to pass the test.”

The training is free for law enforcement in the state of North Carolina as long as officers are sworn through city, state or local government. Local agencies have to pay for overtime or travel vouchers to get officers to the class.

Hall said about 60% of officers taking the class have already been SROs and are getting certified. The other 40% are new resource officers seeking their first certification.

Course instructor Hank Snyder previously worked as a North Carolina Justice Academy instructor and assisted in writing the original school resource officer lesson plan.

“My officers have always been well-rounded end highly trained and I just feel like with this new wave of training it is going to be very helpful for them as well as for the schools and those precious assets, out kids,” Woodard said.

Woodard said the course is a great example of cooperation between the college, the justice academy and his department.

“Of the roughly 7,000 individuals that the college serves every year, two of the largest groups are our first responders and our K-12 students,” said Wilson Community College President Tim Wright. “We provide in-service training and college credit to several hundred of each group, year-in and year-out. On any given day, you can find patrol cars from across North Carolina here in Wilson. That’s because they are coming to us for training. Contributing to the safety of our K-12 students by preparing our law enforcement students for SRO duty is a great privilege for the college, and a service we’re very gratified to offer.”

Woodard called local SROs role models for the students they protect and serve.

“I commend our SROs. It takes a very special person to do the job that they do,” Woodard said. “You don’t just hand-pick somebody and throw them in that position because you’ve got an opening. It’s a special person and each one of them are special and they are special to the students. They treat those kids like they are family and that’s the way that way we want them to.”

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