School Patrol: Commissioners, parents react to Resource Officer cuts
HAMILTON COUNTY, TN. (WRCB) -- Whether he takes it to them, or vice versa; Hamilton County Deputy Tim Mann finds himself playing second father to more than 800 teenagers in his role as Red Bank High School's Resource Officer.
"A lot of it is building relationships," he says. "We're not just the cops coming to take your family away or lock your family up. Sometimes we need to show the human side to police officers."
Deputy Mann has been 'the man' for Red Bank High since the Resource Officer program began. Continuity may help foster comfort. He's on his third Principal.
"I don't see them as having to always be the enforcer," first-year Principal Dr. Justin Robertson says. "This is more about looking after them and educating them."
Sheriff Jim Hammond says he couldn't agree more, but budgets forced him to trim the one program that Tennessee's Constitution or statutes do not mandate.
"We simply looked at the schools with the fewest number of service calls," Sheriff Hammond says.
That decision left Ooltewah Middle, Lookout Valley, Sequoyah High and Washington Alternative High School without an officer for the 2012-13 academic year.
"This is pure payback for him not getting what he wanted (from the County Commission)," Finance Chairman Fred Skillern. "He could find the money by cutting some Administrators."
Sheriff Hammond had requested an increase to his $27 million annual budget to hire nine more officers in Corrections, Patrol and the Detective Division
"I was blind-sided by this," says Commissioner Chester Bankston, whose District includes Ooltewah Middle School. "Does he expect Collegedale (Police) to cover it?"
"There is no fluff in the Sheriff's Department," Hammond responds. "I can stand up and justify every cost."
But School Board Chairman Mike Evatt also questions priorities.
"Why couldn't we take just one of those two officers from East Hamilton (Middle & High School), and cover Ooltewah Middle," he asks. "They're close enough to each other that one of them could run over to the other if there's trouble."
Sheriff Hammond goes back to the numbers.
"Where do I have the greatest number of people, where do I have the greatest calls for service," he asks. "Those are the numbers I have to work with. Any time any Commissioner wants to talk about that, we will. I want parents to see that too."
Parents need to turn their thoughts into action, says Scottie Goodman-Summerlin, Communications Director for the Hamilton County Parent-Teacher Association (PTA).
"We know the Sheriff found this difficult to do, but we have to let Commissioners know we want them to pay for these officers, and we're willing to pay," she says. "Until enough parents speak up about this, this is what will happen in our schools."
Sheriff Hammond says the cutbacks still will leave Hamilton County deputies in 14 schools, the same number of schools as when the program began.
Chattanooga Police provide Howard High School's Resource Officer, and one of the two at Brainerd High School.
Hamilton County's Department of Education pays the salaries for Resource Officers at Hixson and Orchard Knob Middle Schools.
Signal Mountain Police cover Signal Mountain Middle-High School and East Ridge Police supply an officer for East Ridge Middle-High School.
Deputy Mann believe a school loses more than a ready responder when a Resource Officer leaves.
"Part of what we do is letting these students know that there is a different world outside of these walls, and where we live," he says. "We have all types of backgrounds here. "It's not just one area, we're all facing the same problems."
"When you take care of it here and don't take care of it there, it's gonna find its way over there."