Camden County Sheriff’s Department discusses decision to bolster SRO program with grant funds

Lake Sun Leader

Earlier in the month, Camden County Sheriff’s Department announced that they would be receiving $316,451.00 as part of the Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services COPS Hiring Program to fund salaries for three full-time school resource officers (SROs). Sheriff Tony Helms sought the opportunity and applied for the grant to help fund the school resource officer program in the outlying areas of the county.

While the choice may seem obvious to some, the idea of having SROs in schools at all has been a hot debate at the state level. In late June, the Associated Press reported that the ACLU had circulated a letter to nine school administrators, mostly in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, claiming that the money spent on school resource officers should instead go to the social-emotional needs of children, such as by hiring more social workers and counselors. There is still yet to be any further action taken.

Though this discussion is still ongoing in the larger cities of Missouri, Captain Chris Twitchel says that Camden County works on a much different level. He says that, since the inception o the program in 2017, the SRO program has grown to mean more than just safety for the students involved. He says that it helps students form a relationship with the officers and helps develop trust in local law enforcement.

“The officers make them feel safe,” Twitchel said. “A lot of these kids come from broken homes, these students build strong relationships with the officers. They help kids heal.”

The three SROs that will receive further salary funding from the grant are stationed at Macks Creek, Stoutland and Hurricane Deck. Normally, the county pays 25% of these salaries and benefits packages while the schools using the officers cover the other 75%. This grant will help each part of that split with costs.

One of the key arguments against SRO usage throughout the state is what some claim as a racial imbalance, where SROs will give fairer treatment to white students and may be more critical towards students of color. Twitchel responded to this concern, saying that while that issue may be possible within a city such as St. Louis or Kansas City, it’s not present within Camden County.

Twitchel says the focus of the department during training is to treat every person equally. He says the department has no tolerance for discrimination. Even though the SROs may face a low disparity of race within the county schools, Twitchel says the officers are jumping in to help any student to the best of their ability.

“We will not tolerate biased policing or discrimination, it’s just not gonna happen,” Twitchel said. “It’s against our working vision.”

Overall, Helms says that he is thrilled to have received the grant funds, as it will continue to make strides towards the county’s goal of school safety.

“It’s probably one of the best things that has happened to these schools,” Helms said. “We have an outpouring of students that are happy to have someone to talk to. That in itself is worth all the money invested. Kids are our tomorrow, we need to invest in them today.