Five police departments in Alabama received the grant, which is provided by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing.
For Heflin, the money means the city can hire an officer for the three years, said Sgt. Kevin Turley, one of the officers who helped write the grant. Once the grant is over the city is required to maintain that position for at least 12 months, Turley said.
It’s something the department has wanted to do for quite some time, he said.
“As soon as they announced they were going to do a school resource officer grant, we jumped on it,” Turley said. “The school can’t afford to, at this time, go and put officers in the schools .… and the city can’t afford to have an officer up there full-time.”
The grant was a partnership between the school system, the city and the department, Turley said.
The city will have to put up about $12,000 per year to hire the officer, said Shane Smith, Heflin's city clerk. Cleburne County Schools Superintendent Claire Dryden said the school system will also have to put up a small amount of money, but she was unsure how much.
Officers already walk through the schools in Heflin, provide added security at school events and direct traffic in the mornings and afternoons, Turley said. The grant will allow the resource officer to be at one of the district’s schools throughout his or her entire shift, he added.
The officer's time will be among the Cleburne County high, middle and elementary schools.
School resource officers undergo special training to work in the schools, Turley said.
Kerri Williamson, training director for the National Association of School Resource Officers, said the officers are trained to take on three tasks in the schools – they act as law enforcement officers, mentors and educators.
A former teacher, Williamson said the officers can be a positive role model for students and build relationships with them.
“They’ll come to the officers with problems and concerns they normally wouldn’t tell anyone else,” Williamson said.
The officer can teach programs like Drug Abuse Resistance Education, but also things like forensics or law, she said.
Turley said he is excited about all those possibilities.
“It’s not just being reactive; they’re being proactive,” Turley said. “That keeps people out of trouble.”
The department is looking to hire someone in the coming weeks. Once the officer is hired, he or she will have to go through the training before working in the schools, Turley said.
Dryden said she is happy to have an officer in the Heflin schools full-time. For her it’s a safety issue. The parents entrust their children to the schools and expect them to be kept safe, she said.
“I feel much better for the children here in Heflin,” Dryden said. “I will continue to work to get money to have school resource officers in other schools as well.”
Etowah County, Jasper, Pell City and Talladega also received grants to hire school resource officers.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.