Iberville beefing up school patrols

The Iberville Parish Sheriff's Office is set to hire three new school resource officers to enhance school security as districts across the state evaluate the safety of their schools following the shooting deaths of 27 students and educators at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Iberville School Superintendent Ed Cancienne said the School Board is allocating to the Sheriff's Office more than $150,000 a year to add the three officers, increasing how much the school district spends annually on school safety to about $250,000.

"The presence of the Sheriff's Department in our schools is important because we have to design and implement a culture of awareness," Cancienne said. "We also have to give our teachers and students and parents the assurance that we are doing everything possible to create a safe learning environment in Iberville Parish."

Officials with the Sheriff's Office, speaking on behalf of Sheriff Brett Stassi, on Monday asked the School Board to enter into a collaborative agreement to help pay for the new resource officers.

The school district gave Stassi the OK to proceed the next day, Cancienne said.

In the days immediately following the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, Cancienne said, Stassi had his deputies patrolling school campuses in the parish as part of their daily routes at no charge to the school district.

But Stassi said hiring officers dedicated specifically to policing the district's 11 schools will provide better protection and give his regular deputies more time to patrol parish streets.

The parish has only one school resource officer, who works primarily at Plaquemine High School, Stassi said.

"We wish we had enough money to put them in all our schools right now," Stassi said. "The School Board is as concerned as I am about the safety of our students in (the parish)."

The sheriff's more than $150,000 request from the school district - about $55,000 a year per officer - will help pay for the officers' salaries, benefits and equipment, according to the proposal presented to the School Board.

Chief Financial Officer Jolain Landry said the school district spends about $100,000 annually on school security measures, which include crossing guards and the lone resource officer at Plaquemine High.

Stassi said his department will cover all the associated training expenses and provide vehicles for the new SROs.

"We can't just hire a person off the streets," he said of the officers who will carry guns.

The sheriff said school resource officers must be certified in Peace Officer Standards and Training and be in good standing with the local Sheriff's Office and municipal police departments.

School resource officers must also have two years of police experience as well as a high school diploma or GED, and must complete basic SRO training, Stassi said.

Stassi said he intends to have the officers in place by the beginning of February.

The sheriff said the four resource officers will be assigned certain regions of the parish where they will patrol schools in their areas at random times throughout the day.

"It won't be a pattern where folks will be able to figure out when they're working," he said.

The sheriff said his regular deputies will continue to provide traffic control at certain schools in the mornings and afternoons and conduct walk-throughs on campuses throughout the day.

Stassi said his department is also working with a consultant who has already started surveying the district's schools for a threat assessment.

Those findings will be compiled into a report that will be used to create individual crisis plans for each of the parish's schools, he said.

"This is the world we're living in today," Stassi said. "I assure you that no school in the parish will be overlooked."