picture by: Warren Scott
Brooke County District Attorney Joseph Barki said financial issues affecting the number of sheriff’s deputies available for investigations and routine patrols are a factor in placing officers in local schools.
At the Brooke County commission meeting on Tuesday, Barki shared the county’s perspective on the matter after receiving requests in recent weeks to reinstate officers.
He held out hope that a resolution might be near, saying he and the school board’s lawyers were looking to “approach it from a different angle.”
Barki said he plans to set up a meeting between county officials and school district leaders to work out a new agreement for paying officers.
Plans called for a deputy to be placed in each school using funds from the school district’s five-year operating tax, which was approved by voters in 2019. But a shortfall of $3.2 million from the tax led school officials to request a contribution from the departmental commission.
The commissioners said they couldn’t afford the four officers, hadn’t budgeted for them, and fired them.
Barki said Tuesday the cost to the county for a newly hired deputy is about $88,850, including salaries, benefits and retirement. He and County Commissioner AJ Thomas said it also cost about $80,800 to train and provide equipment, including a police cruiser, to each officer.
Barki said an experienced officer, with a higher salary, was wanted for one of the school officer positions, while the sheriff’s department is expected to hire two new deputies for the other positions if a deal is reached. .
He said new hires would help ensure the sheriff’s department has enough manpower to serve the public outside of schools.
“It’s not an insignificant amount when you’re talking about the total budget for the county and the total cost for the county,” he said.
Barki noted that to date, school officials have offered to pay $60,000 per agent, or about 67.5% of their cost. He added that funds for officers from both sides must come from budgets already established for the current fiscal year.
Barki said local school officials “also have a lot of hurdles to jump through” to comply with the policy set by public school officials.
On hearing the news of new negotiations, the Reverend Brian Knight told the commission, “It seems to come down to what are we willing to compromise on?”
Beverly Sizemore, who leads the Brooke County Schools Service Staff Association, said, “I’m just glad there’s new leadership.”
Sizemore told commissioners earlier that she came to see them as a grandmother concerned about her grandchildren and other children at a time when reports of school shootings were spreading further.
In the past, sheriff’s deputies and other local police officers serving as school resource officers received training in handling various emergencies, such as the presence of an active shooter, and often spoke to students about issues involving the ‘law application.
They have also been credited with investigating allegations of abuse and other crimes due to their presence in schools.
Sizemore noted that former officers were funded by state grants and noted that Ohio County received a $50,000 Federal Justice Assistance Grant, and that these grants can be used to resource officers.
Barki and County Administrator Adrienne Ward said they would review those and other grants.