CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Local boards of education can make a significant impact on school safety, especially when it comes to recruiting police officers to patrol campus, officials say.
With major cuts to federal funding over the years, only 64 of West Virginia's more than 800 public schools have a prevention resource officer patrolling the halls. None of those are elementary schools.
About a third of those officers are locally funded, while the rest are supported by about $800,000 in federal grants that were awarded to the state in 2012, according to the West Virginia Division of Justice & Community Services.
Leslie Boggess, deputy director of the division, said the schools with PROs in the building are "the lucky ones," and since the program started 15 years ago, requests for an officer have dramatically increased while funding has decreased.
"It's safe to say that having an officer in the school is better than not having an officer there. It would be wonderful if we could have them in every school, but we don't have any control over the federal budget," Boggess said. "We recommend looking to local funds. Your local school board is always the safest place to go, but county commissions and others will probably be willing to contribute. Federal grants are continuing to decrease."
PROs are not only trained to respond to dangerous school situations, but also provide mentoring services and talk to students about issues such as underage drinking and drug abuse.
'Hard to gauge'
Just because only 64 of the state's police officers are certified PROs, though, doesn't necessarily mean that only 64 schools have a police presence. The number of school resource officers, whose role in schools is for security only, is "hard to gauge," Boggess said.
The state used to receive federal grants from Community Oriented Policing Services for those positions. When that money stopped coming in, some officers were maintained locally and others weren't, she said.
Only four West Virginia police officers are listed as active in the National School Resource Officers database.
"West Virginia has one of the very lowest numbers. I don't know if we have any state with a lower number of active officers," said Janet Hyatt, a representative with the NSRO, the country's largest organization dedicated to training school-based law enforcement officers.
While that could mean West Virginia has a small police presence in schools, it also could mean there are a number of SROs who haven't been properly trained through the NSRO or trained to serve in public schools at all, Hyatt said.
"There's training out there that we don't approve of," she said. "You could have many SROs in your state, [but] they just aren't registered with us."
Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, President Obama has called for a review of the country's school safety and gun control laws. On Friday, the National Rifle Association asked Congress to provide funding for armed security guards in every school as soon as next month.
In an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Friday, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., wrote that he wants to bring the entertainment, gun and mental-health communities together to talk about preventing mass violence.
He cautioned that, if the Obama administration takes "a guns-first approach without addressing the other factors at play, we will be no closer to resolving this problem than we were in the days before the horror in Newtown."
In the op-ed, Manchin also proposed a national commission on mass violence that could conduct public hearings and would "have teeth," like the 9/11 Commission.
"Since the funding dried up . . . police have been in and out of middle schools and high schools," Boggess said. "I don't know if anyone is really keeping track of that. There may be a lot of officers in schools that aren't with our agency -- some full time, some part time. I have a strong suspicion there will be a lot more, though."
Still, Boggess knows that elementary schools aren't a priority.
"Sometimes, officers may go into elementary schools if there's time to do some sort of presentation or just to visit. So, there's some correspondence," she said, "but these programs aren't designed to be utilized in elementary schools, and they rarely are."