Mercer Co. still struggling to hire school resource officers

Mercer Co. still struggling to hire school resource officers
Published: Mar. 31, 2023 at 5:16 PM EDT
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MERCER COUNTY, Ky. (WKYT) - The deadly shooting in one of Nashville’s private schools earlier this week has caught the attention of some Kentucky superintendents.

On August 1, 2022, state lawmakers mandated that every public school campus have a school resource officer, also known as SROs.

For the Mercer County School District, that deadline has come and gone. More than six months later, they are struggling to fill the necessary SRO positions.

“We had an SRO opening posted or job posting for a year and couldn’t get one applicant,” said Mercer County Superintendent Jason Booher.

Booher says the younger officers from the Harrodsburg Police Department and the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office want more action than just covering schools, and the older officers were close to retirement.

Booher says even before the August 1 mandate to have a school resource officer at every public school campus kicked in, he went a year and a half without one.

He couldn’t get an SRO, so he came up with a plan.

“So we finally said we are going to try a new way to do it, and that would be create our own police department,” Booher said. “When you create your own police department within your school system, then you’re on the same number of days as your teachers are.”

Booher says this method is more enticing to recruit an SRO because officers would work a 185-day contract instead of working year-round.

So after a four-month process, the district hired former Harrodsburg police officer Michael Shewmaker as its first district police chief. He started in late February.

“With the growing changes in times that we are in now, it is so much more comfortable knowing that you have an SRO in your school building,” Booher said.

At this point, Officer Shewmaker is a one-person police force in the school district protecting about 2,700 students.

The district needs four more officers to cover four campuses.

Shewmaker’s salary is being funded by federal dollars, not state funds.

Booher says he’s found money to fund two of the four officers needed.

“There’s a lot of great ideas out there and great laws legislation, but when they’re unfunded, it puts the burden on the local school system,” Booher said.

The school shooting that happened earlier this week in Nashville has captured Booher’s attention. He’s hoping the state will fund this mandate in 2024.

“Situations like that in Tennessee always bring up, hey, we can’t have enough safety in our schools,” Booher said.

Booher says his schools are located close to the police department and sheriff’s office, and he feels they could respond rather quickly to an incident.

When it comes to funding four SROs, Booher says he will need $250,000 for their salary, and that doesn’t include the necessary gear for each officer.