Grants not awarded for two school officers

WELLSBURG – Brooke County Commissioners learned Tuesday that two of three grants sought for prevention resource officers at Brooke County Schools haven’t been awarded.

The commissioners received letters from the state Division of Justice and Community Services stating because of steep competition for funds, it’s unable to award two grants sought by the sheriff’s department.

The state division oversees certification of the officers, who are assigned to schools to provide security, and act as liaisons between students and faculty and their police departments.

Brooke County Sheriff Chuck Jackson confirmed grants weren’t received for the prevention resource officers at Brooke High School and Follansbee Middle School, though a grant was awarded for an officer at Wellsburg Middle School.

Jackson said he is disappointed by the news, particularly since Sheriff’s Deputies Larry Palmer and John White each received state awards for their work through the program and the county hosted the state PRO conference this year. But he acknowledged when the program was begun about 20 years ago, the intention was for the grants to help initiate officers’ presence in schools, with local sources eventually funding the officers entirely.

Jackson said that never happened, though the sheriff’s department and Brooke County Board of Education have contributed more of their cost in recent years, as funding was reduced.

He said in recent years about $35,000 was awarded in grants and $25,000 provided by the school board, with his department supplementing the remainder of about $132,000 needed for the three officers.

Jackson said he strongly supports the program and will seek additional money from the school board and explore other options to maintain the officers, particularly one at the high school.

“We’re going to have a police officer at Brooke High School if I have to pay for it out of my own pocket,” he said.

Jackson said one option may be to divide an officer between the two middle schools. But he said that would require the county to return the state grant because it requires the covered officer to serve at just one school.

The commissioners encouraged Jackson to keep the officers.

“We need to move forward with that program. It’s an excellent program,” said Commissioner Jim Andreozzi.

Commissioner Norma Tarr said, “Twenty years ago (when the program was started), we didn’t have people coming into schools and shooting. I want to keep my grandson safe.”

The prevention resource officers haven’t been called upon to handle shooting incidents. But they have assisted on a few occasions this year when schools were locked down or evacuated because suspicious activity was reported at or near them.