RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Glenn Youngkin’s push to increase school resource officers is starting to show results but some advocates argue the state should spend its money elsewhere.
Earlier this summer, the General Assembly approved an additional $45 million over two fiscal years to pay for new school resource officers and school security officers.
The Department of Criminal Justice Services said just under $15 million was given out during the first two rounds of grant applications. The agency said that money will support 185 positions across 182 schools, including 110 elementary schools, 24 middle schools and 31 high schools.
Another round of applications is ongoing and will remain open until Sept. 9, 2022.
“We’re seeing a lot of interest where we weren’t seeing it before,” DCJS’s Law Enforcement Grants and Programs Manager Tracy Matthews said in an interview on Tuesday.
That’s partly because, for fiscal year 2023 grants, localities don’t have to pay to match the state’s contribution, according to Matthews. He said that the requirement will resume in fiscal year 2024 unless the General Assembly takes further action.
“It seems like localities really appreciate that opportunity, especially coming out of COVID where localities may not have the additional funding to support these positions,” Matthews said.
Funding may still be a barrier in some localities. There is no guarantee that the state will continue to pay for these positions in future budgets.
If existing funds aren’t enough to meet demand, Matthews said their top priority will be filling positions at middle and high schools. After that, they’ll prioritize schools that don’t have any school resource officers and localities that have yet to receive any grant funding.
Concerns over creating an “unfunded mandate” were behind why some Republicans voted against a bill backed by Youngkin that initially sought to require a school resource officer in every building.
According to DCJS data from the 2020-2021 school year — the most recent available — 705 Virginia schools, or 36%, don’t have a school resource officer. That includes 596 elementary schools, 30 middle schools, 30 high schools and 49 others.
A watered-down version of the bill was ultimately passed and took effect July 1. It requires schools that don’t have a school resource officer to work with local law enforcement to designate a point of contact to get special training.
Attorney General Jason Miyares, who has been meeting with schools across the state about security, said in an interview on Tuesday that he would support a requirement.
“I would support a mandatory SRO provision,” Miyares said. “I think it is an important tool to create a safe learning environment, which should be all of our number one goals.”
Miyares said these officers should be armed to create an extra layer of protection.
Miyares cited a recent fatal stabbing near school grounds in Alexandria, which prompted him to pen a letter to leaders urging them to reject calls to remove school resource officers.
“Maybe those on the left have good intentions but the results have been that there are certain violent perpetrators in our school. They are acting in a violent, aggressive manner and they are hurting other kids,” Miyares said.
Valerie Slater, the executive director of Rise for Youth, said the state should not spend more money on policing schools. Instead, she said those investments should go towards additional social workers and counselors that can help students cope with the trauma driving their behavior.
“Arresting them and criminalizing them does not do that. That instills fear in the hearts of children. Is that really what we want in the learning environment,” Slater said. “It’s troubling that’s the path that we would want to take as a first response rather than saying let’s wrap around these kids. Let’s show every child how much we care.”