Public entities in Webster Parish know the importance of school safety, which is why School Resource Officers (SRO) can be seen on campuses throughout the public school system.
According to Webster Parish School officials, the City of Minden and Town of Springhill are paid $1,500 a month for their contributions in providing school resource officers.
Although the Webster Parish Sheriff's Office said it does not receive financial support, it also supplies a School Resource Officer to the school system.
"Our resource officer tries to get around to as many schools as he can," said Bobby Igo Jr., Chief Deputy of the Webster Parish Sheriff's Office.
"He mostly serves Central, Doyline, Lakeside and the schools on the northern end of the parish, outside the Springhill city limits.
"If schools have a problem with discipline, there is a theft, someone does something out of character or we hear a student is threatening or is fighting, we respond," Igo continued. "Our SRO has a lot of ground to cover and he is just one individual, so he is extremely busy."
Despite having only one dedicated SRO, Igo said deputies are not confined to the roads they patrol.
"Our deputies patrol 24/7 and they are also available to go to schools," he said. "They may not be considered Resource Officers but we try to have deputies in every area of the parish so they can quickly respond to things that happen, including at schools."
Igo said deputies have to be ready and prepared at all times.
"You have to suspect the worst and hope it never happens," he said. "The majority of our deputies have children or grandchildren, and they know how important it is to protect our youth. They should be able to go to school safely."
Igo commended school officials for providing a safe learning environment.
"We are fortunate in Webster Parish to have the kind of teachers and school system that we have," he said. "They are hands-on principals and know what is going on in their schools to the best of their ability, and that helps. They notify us if there is a problem, and we try to respond as quickly as we can because these situations with our children are volatile. We want to be there for them. They are looking for red flags 24/7. They don't go to school with blinders on."
Igo said he can see both sides of the 'guns in schools' debate.
"There are two sides of that battle either way you go," he said. "It does concern me that we put weapons on the premises. But I also understand the need to want to protect yourself."
Igo hopes, if legislation passes, that it is drafted in a way that ensures weapons are placed so they are unobtainable by anyone other than the individual responsible for using them.
"That is something that would have to be looked at on an individual basis and at each school," he said, "A lot of people get hurt with their own weapons; innocent people get hurt during accidents with firearms."
Igo and Minden Police Chief Steve Cropper are in agreement when it comes to properly training anyone who may be allowed to use a firearm, in the event legislation passes.
"I've spoken with high school administrators and several of them said they would never consider that," Cropper said. "A school teacher that would not feel comfortable being in possession or having access to a firearm at school does not need to have that responsibility. But I think if there was someone, they should be trained and willing to go through a process of learning how to handle that responsibility."
Cropper can see potential issues with securing firearms on campus.
"It would have to be secured in such a way that the only person who could access it was trained and knew what to do with it," he said. "Another scenario that throws a red flag is, in an incident of a school shooting, we don't know who the shooter is.
"What happens if we get to the campus and that teacher that was trained and had access to a firearm, is not recognized by law enforcement," Cropper continued. "If that ever came to pass there would have to be something done so the person with the responsibility of a firearm on campus was identifiable to all responding agencies – maybe a vest, so the trained school personnel would not be mistaken."
Currently, Minden Police Department has one full time SRO that is shared among schools in Minden.
"Our SRO stays as busy as any officer," Cropper said. "There is always something going on."
Cropper said an incident occurred a few weeks ago, where the SRO was in the right place at the right time.
"A set of parents and relatives came up to a school to confront a child," Cropper said. "The officer was able to see them as they came in a side door and stop them and ask them what they were doing. Come to find out they were there to confront a child at the high school."
Cropper said incidents such as the one he described do not happen often, and the SRO's presence on campus does deter and help with friction between students.
"There is always something going on," he said. "In my opinion, there ought to be a police officer at every school. I know funding is an issue, but it would be a tremendous help."
Will Lynd, chief of Springhill Police Department, shares Croppers views on SROs.
"The school system in north Webster Parish would be lost without them (SROs)," he said. "I hope it is something the school board can and does continue to fund."
Springhill Police Department has one full-time SRO that serves Brown Elementary, Browning Elementary and North Webster High School.
"Our SRO stays extremely busy," Lynd said. " He is a great asset to the schools. You can ask any principal or teacher up here and they will tell you the same thing. He takes care of business."
Lynd said all cases – from narcotics in schools to fighting – are handled by the SRO.
"He handles all sorts of cases, just like everything a police officer normally handles if he is patrolling," Lynd said. "Few people realize the different roles police officers play. We wear a lot of hats – marriage and family counselors, a shoulder to cry on, sometimes we have to be a parental figure and tell someone they are doing wrong."
Lynd said the partnership between the school board and Town of Springhill is vital to providing a SRO to Springhill schools.
"If we didn't have the funding from the school board, I couldn't afford to continue to give this service to the citizens in Springhill," he said. "It is a hard economical time, and without that support funding it wouldn't be affordable, even though SROs are needed."
Lynd knows the importance of cooperation between public entities.
"We are part of an agreement between Springhill Police Department, Webster Parish Sheriff's Office, and Columbia County Sheriff's Office," Lynd explained. "In the case of an emergency or an active school shooting or other type of violent act, it is closer for us to respond to Taylor, Arkansas than it would be for Columbia County deputies," Lynd said. "They will respond; however, we are able to get to Taylor quicker. The end goal is saving lives in that type of scenario, and we are happy to partner with them, because we can arrive on scene faster than they normally can. Hopefully, this plan will never need to be implemented."
Lynd said scenarios like the Sandy Hook school shooting are always on the minds of local law enforcement.
"The week before the Sandy Hook shooting, we had the FBI come in, and we were doing active shooter training," he said. "The next week, Sandy Hook happened. We are all the time planning for worst-case scenarios."
Lynd said he can see pros and cons of allowing trained personnel to have a firearm on campus.
"If the legislation passes, it is very important they be careful with who is selected," he said.