Cary News

Police seek WCPSS talks in resource officer pay

Knightdale High School resource officer Pete Smith says that he often has his hands full, and that the school could use another officer.
Knightdale High School resource officer Pete Smith says that he often has his hands full, and that the school could use another officer.

Police departments around Wake County are seeking more money for their school resource officers, looking to change a funding model that has remained static for more than 15 years.

The Apex police department and now the Knightdale police department are among those seeking to begin talks with Wake County Public Schools System administrators, the school board and commissioners.

Since the late 1990s, when the SRO model was created, the state allotted funding for the county to use toward its officers. For each high school, the town that provided the officer would receive $37,838 to fund its SRO position. Middle schools were exempt from any state funding.

The financial contribution has remained unchanged. Currently, the current cost of an SRO at Knightdale High School is $66,044 for salary and benefits. According to a Jan. 26 letter from Knightdale police Chief Lawrence Capps to Superintendent James Merrill, the town absorbs $28,206 in funding for the position, not including uniforms, vehicles and equipment.

“There is quite more of a workload added to the officers serving,” Capps said in an interview. “The SRO in Knightdale isn’t necessarily dealing with residents who live just in Knightdale. We have folks all over Wake County... why is the municipal taxpayer sharing the burden of costs associated with folks who aren’t from the [town]?”

Knightdale Council member James Roberson, who is chairman of the town’s public safety committee, agreed.

Sharing the cost

“It would make more sense that that cost is shared from key stakeholders,” he said. “It would be more equitable across the board. ... It’s important that the municipalities aren’t stuck with this tremendous burden.”

Roberson added that with more assistance from the county, the school might even be able to add officers to school campuses.

The Apex Police Department, which sent the first letter to school administrators, recently hired three new SROs to cover a second high school now under construction and three middle schools, which currently share one SRO. The town of Apex will be swallowing the costs for the middle school SROs.

Apex currently uses the $37,838 toward funding one full-time officer, one part-time officer, a supervisor, vehicles, equipment and training.

“We believe very strongly in school safety,” Apex police Chief John Letteney said. “We want to enhance public safety in our schools and we think the school system should bear more of the cost. We have students from all over our county, and the only common denominator is the county.”

Letteney added that officers do much more than law enforcement. They also mentor and build relationships.

“We’re committed and putting a lot of resources toward it, but it’s not balanced,” he said.

Middle schools in Raleigh, Fuquay-Varina, Wake Forest, Knightdale, Rolesville, Zebulon and Wendell are staffed by the Wake County Sheriff’s office. Cary, Garner, Apex and Holly Springs have SROs funded by their towns.

East Wake High School is staffed by deputies as well, but those positions are compensated by the county.

WCPSS Security Director Russ Smith said the school system has received the letters. He’s not sure why there hasn’t been a change, he said, but they have continued the process because of the funding that the county is receiving from the state.

Smith said that they would be reaching out to each department.

“We’re going to have discussions, which direction they’ll go in, I can’t say,” he said.