“I’m very proud of our accomplishment,” said Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland. “I think it says a lot about what the commissioners think about the safety of our kids.”
To get the SRO position started as soon as possible, Holland will move one of his patrol deputies to the school and deal with having one less deputy on patrol for a while. But come July, when the new fiscal year begins, commissioners have promised to give Holland another deputy position to replace the one moved to Cartoogechaye.
“Instead of looking at it as a new deputy position, I look at it as more we have a deputy stationed in the community,” said Commission Chairman Kevin Corbin.
For instance, Corbin said, while the deputy is stationed at the school and spends his time there, he’d also be available to respond to emergencies in the area. In Macon County, some schools are located in pretty remote areas, so that’s a plus.
“You got some communities that are pretty far from the sheriff’s office,” Corbin said. “To me it’s an advantage to have a deputy in that community.”
Of course, Cartoogechaye is a lot closer to Franklin than is Nantahala School or Iotla Elementary. But in case of emergency, Holland said, response time is everything.
“I’ve got 25 officers on patrol. There’s typically five to a shift. If I take one position and not use that position on a fulltime basis, it allows me to have a fulltime officer in a school protecting that school,” Holland said. “I can either have nobody there or I can work it out amongst my people to where I have somebody there.”
SROs have become an increasingly common subject of conversation over the last couple decades as school violence has become more prevalent and reported. Holland has been pushing for increased coverage since even before earning his sheriff’s badge in 2002, and in February Macon County Schools won a state grant to station an officer at Nantahala school, the eighth of 11 schools to get an SRO.
When a grant for an additional year of coverage at Nantahala wasn’t forthcoming, commissioners agreed to fund the position. But when the grant eventually came through, the county-funded position went to Iotla and the Nantahala position continued, grant-funded. A new SRO position at East Franklin Elementary School brought the count to 10, and with the Cartoogechaye position secured, Macon County is now at full coverage.
A fully funded SRO position costs about $84,000, with $40,000 of that going toward salary and the rest accounted for with training, uniforms, equipment and a patrol car. But as a product of SRO support himself, Holland counts the position priceless.
“I am a sheriff today because of things that have happened in my life as a youngster where officers had an opportunity to deal with me as a kid and instead of brushing me off or throwing me away, they stuck with me,” Holland said. “It’s because of them that my goal in life was to be one of them.”