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Local leaders, national experts hold town hall about school security

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: That panel consisted of Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, Hamilton County Superintendent Bryan Johnson, Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy, Executive Director for Professional Educators of Tennessee JC Bowman, National School Security Expert Michael Yorio and Retired Police Chief from Colorado Todd Evans. The forum was hosted by radio host and Chattanooga businessman Weston Wamp. (image WTVC)

It's been more than two months since a shooter killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Monday night, local leaders took a stage with national school security experts to answer public questions about what security measures work best in the classroom.

That panel consisted of Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy, Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, Hamilton County Superintendent Bryan Johnson, Executive Director for Professional Educators of Tennessee JC Bowman, and National School Security Expert Michael Yorio. The forum was hosted by radio host and Chattanooga businessman Weston Wamp.

Bowman often referenced a study his organization conducted regarding school teachers across the state. The study surveyed over 1400 teachers; a majority said they felt more comfortable with an armed SRO at their schools. The panel said some of the fear of school safety, no doubt, comes after the Valentine's Day massacre in South Florida.

"It's the presence of all of us in schools to mitigate the threat and to ease the fear of what has happened across our country," said Chief Roddy.

Members of the public took turns standing up and addressing their concerns regarding school security.

"I wandered onto the campus, looking for the meeting, where it would be held," said Kevin Kibble, a resident of Hamilton County for 13 years. "I was able to gain access to the campus with relative ease. That increased my concern."

While there was talk about securing school entrances, School Resource Officers quickly became the hot topic. It's something East Hamilton High School senior Lauren Gossett likes about her school.

"The SRO I know makes me feel a lot safer," she said. "I would feel a lot safer with another SRO because there are a lot of students and he can't be at more than one place at a time."

Right now, only 29 out of about 80 schools have SROs assigned to them. Sheriff Hammond says it would cost an additional $4-million dollars to equip every school in the county with an officer. Dr. Johnson says the board is considering $1.4-million for security upgrades in next year's budget. Part of that money would go toward funding SROs.

Panelists said Monday night wasn't about making any decisions. Instead, they wanted to keep the idea of school safety fresh in everyone's mind, instead of waiting for the next tragic event to talk about it again. Panelists suggest the timing of the conversation is important, since county and statewide elections are just months away.

"We gotta make sure it stays a legislative priority to the next governor and the next group of legislators that come in," said Bowman.

The audience was mostly made up of elected public officials and candidates, as well as county school administrators. School board member Joe Smith, at one point, criticized the absence of Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, saying the city's absence in Monday night's town hall, for the exception of Chief Roddy, is troubling.


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