Sheriff candidates weigh in on school safety

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Wilson County’s next sheriff will have nearly 12,000 public school students to protect, along with hundreds of teachers, administrators and support staff.

In wake of a deadly Florida school shooting and a national debate around gun laws and student safety, school security issues are at the forefront of many voters’ minds. Ahead of the May 8 Democratic primary, The Wilson Times is quizzing candidates on the issues and allowing them to deliver their message in their own words.

Questions on school safety were distributed to Sheriff Calvin Woodard and challengers Chris Boykin and Dinise Williams. Their responses, organized in alphabetical order by last name, are provided below.

Where do you stand on the issue of whether to arm schoolteachers?

BOYKIN: As a former school resource officer supervisor in both Wilson and Johnston counties, I firmly believe in fostering safe learning environments at our schools. Although I am a supporter of citizens’ Second Amendment rights, we have an open education system, i.e. for ALL citizens, regardless of political interest or cultural background. For some, the image of guns on educators’ belts might appear to be contrary to education’s primary purpose. The best way to ensure the safety of every Wilson County student is to post alert, well-trained, perceptive SRO deputies at each school and for them to interact with students, parents and educators on a daily basis. This allows our teachers to focus on teaching.

WILLIAMS: Anyone on a school campus with a gun should be licensed. They should have the same training and certifications similar to sworn law enforcement officers. The goal is to protect our children; to create a safe learning environment. Let us do a better job of supporting our teachers in meeting their instructional duties rather than trying to turn them into SWAT team members. A recent survey found nearly 75 percent of teachers oppose the idea of being trained to carry guns in schools.

WOODARD: Teachers have a tremendous duty teaching, guiding and inspiring our youth to become good moral, prosperous and educated individuals. By placing an additional duty such as carrying a firearm is/should be a decision made by school personnel along with the input of the teachers. It is the collaboration of the educational leadership team and law enforcement that ensures the schools’ infrastructure is safe each day. The decision is one that should be reviewed and determined by legislators, local school board members, community and especially our teachers. As law enforcement, we are sworn to protect and serve, and I will continue, on every level, to produce an environment in which our children and school personnel can have a sense of safety.

Do Wilson County schools have enough school resource officers?

BOYKIN: I believe that MORE school resource officers and increased law enforcement presence are needed, as is more support for the SRO program. While I am committed to spending SRO program dollars wisely, we cannot put a price tag on our schools’ safety. The SRO program is vital to the mission of protecting our most precious asset, our children. If elected, I aim to invest time, effort, planning, proper training and financial resources in the SRO program. In conjunction, to further increase law enforcement presence in our schools, I intend to introduce my Lunch For Cops program, which would allow on-duty law enforcement officers the option to eat a free lunch in our schools.

WILLIAMS: We do not have enough school resource officers. In today’s world, security at our schools is grossly inadequate. I would like for us to establish partnerships and be more creative in securing our schools. We need to seek out all available information and resources. Bring to the table local police, sheriff’s office and security firms to develop new solutions. This is going to require thinking outside the box and being willing to share resources.

WOODARD: There are currently trained/certified school resource officers assigned to every middle and high school in Wilson County. In addition, there are deputies assigned to each elementary school who provide security checks every day. The patrol division and K-9 division also conduct security checks at each elementary school throughout the month. The deputies assigned to the elementary schools are scheduled for SRO training in the summer (June 2018) and will receive their certification. In the event of any armed threat within the area of any private school and/or child care facility, I have protocol in place for a deputy to respond and remain stationary until the threat is no longer in progress thus promoting safety and security.

What measures do you think should be taken to make schools safer?

BOYKIN: Drawing from my 28-plus years of law enforcement experience, and serving in the SRO program, we need a comprehensive school safety plan that includes the sheriff’s office, Wilson PD, other law enforcement agencies, EMS, parents, students and teachers working together. I feel we need to increase the presence of sheriff’s deputies at our schools. I also strongly believe that the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office needs to implement the Readiness Emergency Management for Schools system: maintain readily available electronic mapping of school facilities, regularly update school contact information to keep pace with school personnel changes, and the coordination with school officials on the appropriate reunification areas. Along with REMS, we must focus on communicating better with, and educating students, teachers and parents on recognizing warning signs, and implement a defined reporting system with follow-up processes and procedures. I am committed to enhancing school safety and assisting SROs through greater usage use of available technologies.

WILLIAMS: We have arrived at a point in our country where we must invest in school safety. Immediately, we must start screening all visitors, install secured doors with controlled entry and surveillance cameras. Also, we need to consider fencing to help create a safe zone immediately around our school facilities. School districts should add a safety and emergency preparedness officer to conduct facility audits and to train staff and students on safety measures. Unfortunately, we’re at a point in society where school systems must integrate security and emergency planning in to their operations. Also, train and inform our students about bullying and social media messages that are red flags.

WOODARD: The sheriff’s office in collaboration with Wilson County Schools conducts School Safety Drills and threat assessments with students and school staff. My senior staff meets monthly with Wilson County School leadership team to review safety measures/policies involving schools safety issues. I have obtained a K-9 specializing in bomb searches to ensure safety among our schools. All threats made against students and educational buildings are immediately investigated by my personnel. In the event of such threats, the entire sheriff’s office gets involved by utilizing the latest in technology, intelligence and other resources — we have been very successful in these investigations. In addition, public information methods are collaborated to ensure that parents are made aware of information without impeding the investigation.

As sheriff, what would you do to keep the children of Wilson County safe from gun violence on school campuses?

BOYKIN: I was taught at an early age the adage that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” I want to put that into practice with a comprehensive school safety plan, by increasing the presence of SROs and law enforcement at our schools, the REMS system, better education on recognizing warning signs coupled with a defined reporting and follow-up system, and enhance school safety through greater usage use of available technologies. Many of you will want to hear more from me than just good intentions. You need to believe that something is going to change, and we will be proactive about our schools’ safety. I make you this promise: I vow that if I am elected as your sheriff, I will work every day to ensure that your children are properly protected while they are at school.

WILLIAMS: This is a concern that requires collaboration among parents, schools and local law enforcement. Parents have to pay attention and seek help if their children are showing signs of violent behavior. I would like to work with the school system to provide an annual training session on prevention and emergency response every August before classes start. Also, sheriff’s office and police can work with the schools to have a greater presence. Adding schools to patrols routes, stopping at schools to complete reports and walking the grounds. We have to maintain focus on this topic. Our children deserve it.

WOODARD: I will continue to keep our children safe from gun violence by utilizing proactive law enforcement and community-based strategies. I have implemented such operations as Operation EOG (Education Over Guns), and community programs such as GREAT (Gang Resistance Education and Training), PATHS (Positive Alternative Thinking Strategies) and Project RIDE. These programs educate and deter students against gang violence and bullying and encompass strategies for controlling and managing anger. School resource officers received Crisis Intervention Training, which helps them in noticing and evaluating unusual behavior exhibited by a student. Deputies check the facilities (Business Alert Program) during night patrols for any illegal entries into the facilities. I will continue to have zero tolerance toward violence and threats made against school campuses.