Sutherly advances idea of staffing schools with Strasburg police officers
By Joe Beck
A proposal by Strasburg Police Chief Tim Sutherly to have town officers take over security for all three schools in the area ran into heavy resistance Friday from Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy C. Carter.
Sutherly said his proposal would save the county money and provide more efficient and effective protection than the current system in which his department staffs Strasburg High School and the Sheriff's Office assigns officers to Sandy Hook Elementary and Signal Knob Middle schools. Sutherly described the proposal in a letter sent to County Administrator Douglas Walker on Thursday.
Sutherly asked Walker to consider paying for three Strasburg school resource officers, one of whom is currently assigned to the high school and paid for with town money. The other two positions would be new.
In an interview Friday, Sutherly said the town would pay for in-kind services such as uniforms, equipment, transportation, training and other costs. He estimated the county's share of the cost at 75-80 percent. The payroll costs for the officers would be $149,526 for the first year and decrease in later years, he said.
The proposal also has the advantage of concentrating the remainder of the Police Department's resources within a mile of the school, he said.
"We're right here," Sutherly said. "In my mind, the fewer layers of bureaucracy and management and the more boots on the ground, the more effective the job gets done."
"It's no disrespect to the sheriff. It's just my opinion we can better serve our schools than someone who operates 10 or 12 miles away," he added.
Carter said he was disappointed that Sutherly did not speak to him about the proposal before submitting it to Walker.
Carter has offered his own proposal for school resource officers to the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors, a proposal that he contends offers more savings than Sutherly's.
Carter said he was puzzled at Sutherly's claims that Strasburg-based school resource officers could lower costs and provide better services than his agency.
"It would be nice if he was to make the request, he would make an effort to sit and talk with me about it," Carter said. "The bottom line is that we have a good program. It's supported throughout the county, it provides continuity for public safety throughout the county, and I would hate to see the Board of Supervisors damage that continuity or create an environment that would hinder the public safety of our children."
Carter said his proposal, which calls for hiring four new school officers, would cost the county no money in its first year. Payroll and non-payroll costs would be paid for by money from the Sheriff's Office's forfeiture funds, he said.
Carter also said his figures show he could place a new deputy in the schools for about $1,100 less than Sutherly's proposal in subsequent years.
Carter said he was also concerned that the Strasburg Police Department may run into legal and procedural obstacles if it has to conduct investigations and seize evidence in neighboring jurisdictions. He said sheriff's deputies have built solid relationships with school administrators, teachers and students at Signal Knob and Sandy Hook over the years and sees no reason to sever them.
Irving L. Getz, who represents part of the Strasburg area on the School Board, said he believed both agencies are providing effective protection in the schools.
But, he said, "it appears to me the town, they're already in Strasburg, and I think that's a good thing."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org