Alabama’s largest school system plans to create its own police force, adding officers
Alabama’s largest public school system is looking at ways to bolster security, from creating its own Public Safety Division to adding more than six times the current number of Armed School Resource Officers of the dozen or so officers already patrolling the halls of public schools in Mobile County.
An update of the school system’s security plans should take place from the start of the 2022-2023 school year, which begins on August 4.
School officials held a press conference on Thursday to outline a “Stop the Violence” public awareness campaign and confirmed they will have a safety plan to announce within a month.
“There are all kinds of conversations going on,” said Andy Gatewood, director of safety and security for the Mobile County public school system. “I think we’ve come up with a plan and we’re not quite ready to roll out that plan yet.”
He added: “It is not something that we will allow funding to get in the way. There are grants we can explore and hopefully find the best way to get what we need into our schools and make sure they are safe.
The effort to tighten school safety measures comes at a time when districts across the country are analyzing their own plans in the wake of the deadly May 24 massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. A sniper killed 19 children and three adults.
Schools in Alabama are also taking action by increasing the number of school resource officers (SROs) specially trained to care for students who are stationed full-time in a school building. In Madison County, northern Alabama, the county commission approved the addition of 18 resource officers to the county school system, more than double the number of officers in a public school since 2019. In Springville, police are looking for ways to raise enough money to add ORS to their schools.
Mobile also tackles the issue of school safety at a time when homicides continue to rock the city. Mobile police are reporting 28 homicides so far this year, two more than the city had at this time a year ago. Mobile’s 2021 was the deadliest year on record for homicides.
Mobile school officials did not have figures on the number of students affected by gun violence. But the school system last October drew national attention following a shooting during a high school football game inside Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
School board member Reginald Crenshaw told Mobile, which is among the nation’s 100 largest systems, that efforts are underway to see if an SRO can be placed in every school.
Additionally, he said the only idea under consideration is whether the school system should create its own public safety division similar to what is in place at most major universities and community colleges.
Mobile County Schools currently has 12 School Resource Officers, who are stationed at each of the 12 high schools in the district. The school system is currently looking to add an additional SRO, regardless of the future safety plan.
Mobile County Schools consist of 90 schools in total and have an annual enrollment of approximately 53,000 students.
A decision on adding more SROs or additional security plans could be made at one of the next board meetings. A special session to deal with personnel issues not related to a school safety plan is scheduled for Monday at 10 a.m.
The council will hold a work session on July 20 and a regular monthly meeting on July 25.
Arming of ORS
Crenshaw in May urged the school system to consider a policy that would require its SROs to be armed while on campus. Mobile County ORS are unarmed.
Gatewood said arming ORS is also under consideration.
In neighboring Baldwin County — the third-largest school district in the state — all 45 school buildings have an ORS stationed in their buildings and they are armed with a gun. All Baldwin County SROs are also certified by the National School Resource Association.
Lawrence Battiste, executive director of public safety for the city of Mobile, said he believes ORS should be armed while on duty.
“The majority of resource officers working in the Mobile County School System are former law enforcement officers from the Mobile Police Department or the Mobile County Sheriff’s Department,” Battiste said. “They are well trained.”
He added: “They have a higher likelihood of coming into contact with a young person with a weapon than the average law enforcement officer during a typical school day. I agree that they are armed. This will help them feel more comfortable and the school population will also feel a little more comfortable.
The school system also hopes the recently unveiled Stop the Violence campaign will make students and teachers more comfortable. The program includes posters and flyers that will be distributed to high schools and colleges in the school system, as well as flyers that will be distributed at football games.
Participation in the program is voluntary, although Crenshaw said the principals of at least 12 of the schools wanted to display the posters.
The central message of the campaign is constructive conflict resolution. It will be followed by a mentorship program at each of the schools, Crenshaw said.
“We hope the message will get through to our young people,” he said.
Mobile’s Darrell Portis, holding a photo of his late daughter – Jireh, 18 – said he was confident the posters would have an impact.
Crenshaw described them as “strong messages”. One of them said, “Are you going to kill me? A coward fires into an occupied dwelling. A second reads, “A coward beats females.” Are you a coward?
“I believe it sparks interest, although it’s a mental trigger for kids to see this and know there are other opportunities to resolve conflict in their community,” Portis said.