ROBERTSDALE — With the 2019-20 school year just around the corner, Baldwin County officials gathered for a press conference on Thursday, July 18 in the Baldwin County School System’s Communications Center in Robertsdale to discuss school safety and the success of the county’s School Resource Officer Program.
“We’re excited about this partnership between the school system, the Sheriff’s Office and local law enforcement,” said Baldwin County School Superintendent Eddie Tyler.
For the first time in Alabama, every school in the Baldwin County School System will have an assigned School Resource Officer.
“I think there may be other school systems that have what we have, but nothing to this scale,” Tyler said. “We are excited to have a year under our belts with this program and are ready to start a second. We are proof that this system can and does work.”
First implemented in the 2018-19 school year, the Baldwin County Board of Education has matched funds provided by Baldwin County law enforcement to ensure full, armed officers on every campus, every day. The partnership includes the Baldwin County Board of Education, the Baldwin County Commission, the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office and Baldwin County municipalities.
“I represent not only the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, but I am also here on behalf of the 12 police chiefs throughout Baldwin County,” said Baldwin County Sherriff Hoss Mack. “This program would not have worked if we did not have 100 percent cooperation from all of our municipalities.”
Mack presented statistics from the first year of the SRO program and said the Sheriff’s Department continues to evaluate the success of the program.
“In the first year of the program there were 1,000 incidents that directly involved a School Resource Officer,” Mack said. In a press release issued by the school system, Mack added, “There are instances where we have found neglected and abused children through our officers being on campus and developing trust relationships with these children. We came to the schools to keep out those who want to do harm, but we have learned our presence has a much greater value than just securing the campus.”
The No. 1 reported incident, Mack said, was harassment, “which is the legal term for bullying.” The second most reported incident was trespassing.
“In a lot of cases, these were students that were on campus at a time when they shouldn’t have been on campus.”
During the school year, there were also five weapons seized by SRO officers, including four handguns and one shotgun.
SRO involvement in the school system went beyond the reporting of crime. Mack also presented statistics from individual school feeder patterns.
“In the Daphne feeder pattern alone, SROs reported 755 student consultations,” Mack said, “including 270 that involved the students’ parents.
“Orange Beach’s SRO implemented the ‘Shop With A Cop’ program where the officers took students who would not have otherwise been able to afford it and bought clothing and school supplies.
“In Foley, SRO officers reported 2,577 foot patrols. That’s a lot of walking.”
In addition to on-site officers, Baldwin County Public Schools has also invested millions in new technology in a commitment to safety. This includes a “buzz in” video identification entry at each school, video monitoring systems, alarms and direct connectivity back to law enforcement who can monitor these systems.
“I know as superintendent, I can probably walk into any school, but I make a point to carry my driver license with me to all schools and will not answer until someone asks me if they can help me,” Tyler said. “I want everyone at every school to think safety first and to practice safety every day. I want the safety of our students to be paramount in everything we do.”
Also on hand for the July 18 press conference were BCSO Chief Technology Officer Homer Coffman and Director of Prevention and Support Services Antony Sampson.
Coffman went over upgrades in the school system’s technology systems, which not only provides computer and safety systems to every school, but also provides a computer to every student in grades K-12.
“We have one of the safest networks in the state,” Coffman said, “with more than 60,000 devices connected to a secure network.”
The multi-layer security software monitors, filters and protects students’ online activities, relying on many, overlapping software solutions to alert system managers to areas of concern.
Computer safety is not just software based. Teachers, local school administrators and Educational Technology system administrators review students’ digital activity through monitoring software to ensure compliance with school policies.
This includes sophisticated artificial intelligence to conduct in-depth scanning of student online activities analyzed by administrators. These systems are not limited to activity on campus. The security systems log students’ activities on district devices at home, at a library or any other location regardless of Wi-Fi connection or physical location. The system is designed to flag cyberbullying, self-harm, suicide, inappropriate content and other concerning behaviors.
“We have specific guidelines that we go by,” Sampson said. “If an incident is monitored or reported, we have the tools to follow up and act on that incident. Our No. 1 priority is always to ensure the safety of our students.”
With new construction going on and upgrades to equipment and tools, the security system for the schools is constantly being monitored and updated, Sampson said.
Also with the data now available and continuing to come in, it will make it easier for officials moving forward.
“The best thing about having a year under our belts is that we now have a year’s worth of data to compare moving forward,” Mack said. “I truly believe we will look back and realize this partnership saved Baldwin County from the wave of juvenile crime impacting so much of our country today.”
Information for this report provided by a press release from the Baldwin County School System with additional reporting by Onlooker co-editor John Underwood.