HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -- Few would question an armed officer's value as a first-line of defense.

Our cameras were rolling May 11, when Hamilton County Deputy T. J. Pickens put Sale Creek Middle & High School on lockdown, after getting word that an armed robbery had occurred nearby.

"These are my kids," Deputy Pickens said then, referencing his role as Sale Creek's School Resource Officer (SRO)

"But there's 78 schools in this county," Sheriff Jim Hammond says. "And 'I've got only 20-25 SRO's.   'We'd bankrupt the taxpayers to put an SRO in every school! That's not gonna make sense."

Nevertheless, he concedes that almost every school district nationwide is reconsidering what's 
'safe'  after the murders of 20 first-graders and six faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

"We have to look at every option," Sheriff Hammond says. "Even if it means asking teachers if they'd be willing to volunteer as 'crisis responders.' Not necessarily asking them to carry a gun, but training them if they would be willing to use it."

Hard financial realities drive such considerations, the Sheriff says.

"Every School Resource Officer is a seasoned street officer, specially-trained for school duties," Sheriff Hammond says.

"That first year, you're spending about $80,000 per officer, when you factor in training, pay, benefits and retirement That cost falls to about $60-65,000 afterward; a little more than the cost of a road deputy. But then you've got that down time when you're training, so you're constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Translation: an officer in school is an officer not on road patrol or guarding inmates in the frequently-filled-to-capacity Hamilton County Jail.

"I won't run fewer than two officers (per jail floor), even if it means mandatory overtime," Sheriff Hammond says. "It's just too dangerous. But there's a limit to overtime."

Compounding the Corrections challenge; roughly one-fifth to one-quarter of the inmates are suffering some form of mental illness, requiring medications, the Sheriff maintains.

In the fiscal year ending June 30,  the Jail exceeded its budget for medications by $66,000, according to figures obtained from the Hamilton County Commission,

Transportation was even more of a budget-buster; actual costs exceeding projections by $273,000, thanks to higher prices for gasoline and diesel fuel. Many of those 'transports' involve runs to Erlanger and Parkridge Medical Centers, or to Moccasin Bend for mental evaluations, the Sheriff reports.

"You're left with a couple of options--use retire police officers or military people as part-time resource officers -- or train teachers as 'crisis responders,' Sheriff Hammond says.

School Board Chairman Mike Evatt tells Channel 3 he's had 'a couple of informal conversations' with Hammond in the days following the Sandy Hook shootings.

"All of us want to do as much as we can to protect our children, " Evatt says.

"But I believe teachers have enough to worry about without having to think about using a weapon, or needing to take that sort of action."

Sheriff Hammond acknowledges that school officials, law enforcement and County Commissioners must weigh a variety of concerns beyond whether teachers would be willing to shoulder such additional responsibilities.

"You have liability, too," he says.  "I'm not advocating that everybody line up, sign on the dotted line, and go get Grandpappy's gun."
"Teachers would need training; gun safety, the same sorts of background checks required of our Reserve officers or anybody who wants a permit to carry (a handgun) legally."

Hammond is hopeful that District leaders and law enforcement will meet formally, within the next three to five weeks.

"Anyway you look at it, you're going to have to face these issues," he says. "I don't know which one has merit, but I think we need to talk them each through, thoroughly."

"What I don't want to see happen is that everything quiets down, and we go back to business-as-usual until the next incident."