Livingston schools to add deputies, police

The Livingston Parish School Board’s Budget and Goals Committee on Tuesday recommended for approval a plan that would provide four additional sheriff’s deputies to patrol the district’s schools.

The new school resource officers, commissioned law enforcement officers assigned to provide full-time security for a school or group of schools, would join three others currently patrolling schools in Denham Springs, Walker and Watson.

The Denham Springs and Walker officers are members of their respective police departments while the Watson officer is a sheriff’s deputy.

The plan, proposed by Sheriff Jason Ard on Feb. 21, calls for the School Board to cover half the expense of the five deputies at a total cost to the school district of about $200,000 per year.

School Board committee members recommended approval of the plan for one year after which the effort would be reassessed to determine how well it is working and whether the costs are sustainable.

Each deputy would be assigned to a “cluster” of schools with the Sheriff’s Office staying in contact with district officials and school administrators to adjust assignments and procedures as needed, Ard said Tuesday.

“Anytime you start anything new, there will be changes that come about. This is trial and error for us, and there are things we’ll learn as we go through this new program,” he said.

Superintendent John Watson agreed that the arrangement would be a “work in progress” and that adjustments might be necessary. “But I feel like these five (sheriff’s deputies) with our other two (municipal police officers) will take care of all the areas pretty well,” he said.

Principals are looking forward to the increased officer presence on their campuses, Watson said. And administrators at the schools that have school resource officers have spoken positively about the officers’ work, he said.

“Talking to those principals, it’s not so much about a constant presence as it is about the relationships developed between the officers and the administration, teachers and students,” Watson said.

Ard said that if the plan is approved by the full School Board, the additional deputies could begin working in the schools July 1.

“The main goal here is to prevent any kind of activities from happening that we don’t want to happen, such as a shooting,” Ard said. “But more than just that, we want to focus on the fact that we’ll have an officer in the schools to be a role model, help prevent crime and be a mentor.”