The St. Charles County Council recently approved using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to place School Resource Officers (SROs) in elementary schools in unincorporated areas of the county for the 2022-2023 school year. I am grateful for their approval and the ability to provide extra protection to our youngest school-age children.
Under our current contract with the school districts, SROs are in unincorporated area high schools and most middle schools – nine of 23 schools. With this funding, we are extending our SRO placement to include every school in unincorporated St. Charles County, Augusta Elementary School (Washington School District), and schools in Dardenne Prairie and Weldon Spring (which contract with St. Charles County for police services).
School districts normally share the cost of the resource officers. However, the ARPA funding provides that funds can be spent to combat violence and in view of the nationwide danger to schools of this violence, the provision allows the County to provide 14 additional officers at no cost to the districts. The County is looking at resources to continue this funding past 2023.
While SRO programs have been around since the 1950s, they didn’t become widespread until the late 1990s. St. Charles County’s SRO program started during the 1995-96 school year, when fears nationally were centered around violence and drug use in schools. Since that horrendous day in Columbine, Colorado, in 1999, school shootings have been on the rise. Statistics show there have been 27 school shootings with injuries or deaths this year, the latest being in May at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Officers now are responding to incidents where violent individuals with assault weapons are entering schools with the intent to kill.
Every police officer in St. Charles County – including SROs – receive Multi-Assault, Counter Terrorism Action Capabilities, or MACTAC, training. This rigorous training places officers in a variety of scenarios that are as true-to-life as possible to make certain they can stop an active shooter in any situation. School scenarios are included in the 10 hours of intense training. The officers are reminded that incidents are spontaneous and that suspects are unpredictable and could be heavily armed.
Citizens, teachers, and nonprofit agencies also have benefitted from active shooter training. Many have gone through four hours of 4E School Training: Educate, Escape, Evade and Engage – or Run, Hide, Fight – taught by the St. Charles County Police Department.
Throughout my years of service as your County Executive, one of my top priorities has been to provide a safe place for people to live, work and play in St. Charles County. Now, more than ever, it is important to make certain citizens remain safe. With these new resource officers, and the active shooter training we are providing in the community, I feel confident our police officers are prepared should an active shooter incident occur anywhere in the county.