March 1, 2024

(WGHP) — As schools gear up to start a new year, law enforcement agencies across the county are preparing resource officers as well, some even beefing up their training and tactics.

Madison County Sheriff Buddy Harwood is taking it a step further by arming county school resource officers with AR-15 semi-automatic guns on all six campuses in the county.

“We’ve sometimes seen that having just a deputy armed with a handgun isn’t enough to stop these animals. That’s why I’ve decided to arm all of my school resource officers with AR-15 rifle optics and accessories,” Harwood said.

Harwood said at a conference in June that the SROs will not be walking around the schools with guns. The guns will be locked away in secured safes with optics and accessories along with tools to help break barricaded doors down so resource officers can act quickly without waiting for help from the local fire department.

“Ensuring the safety of our children, the money to purchase these rifles and accessories was all donated by community members from Madison County,” Harwood said.

The new program in Madison stems off the heels of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Texas.

Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page said school systems work differently, but they all share one thing and that is the need to keep the schools safe.

“Each incident you evaluate, you see if there is anything you can learn from it to improve upon best practices when it comes to these critical incidences because minutes are lives. For every minute that goes by, that could be a loss of life,” Page said.

Page said sheriffs typically do not share information about their tactics with the public out of safety concerns and not tipping anyone off of what they have available.

Page said it is an interesting concept and the availability is a good idea, but they will not be following what Madison County is doing. The level of safety is still reportedly just as high.

“In Rockingham County, we’ve been working on protocols and making sure our guys and girls have the equipment they need to do the job and get the job done,” Page said.

Without giving certain details, Page said they do provide specialized gear and training. All deputies and SROs will be equipped with long guns and work in conjunction with officials in all 22 schools in the county.

“I think across North Carolina, we take it seriously. Our children are valuable, and we want to make sure we look after them and protect them,” Page said.

Page said more funding for SRO is greatly needed, and seeing more officers on school campuses becomes a deterrent.

He also said Governor Cooper recently provided more support from the Department of Public Safety, which will allow more probation officers, highway patrol troopers and local law enforcement officials to walk the campuses for added security.

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