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Resource officers, trail agreement before Brooke County Commission

RESOURCE OFFICERS, TRAIL DISCUSSED — Brooke County commissioners were asked Tuesday about funding for school resource officers, and approved an agreement allowing American Electric Power to build a transmission tower along the Brooke County Pioneer Trail. -- Warren Scott

WELLSBURG — Brooke County commissioners were asked Tuesday if they would revisit funding school resource officers while approving an agreement allowing American Electric Power to build a transmission tower along the Brooke County Pioneer Trail.

The Rev. Brian Knight asked the commissioners whether they would consider reinstating Brooke County sheriff’s deputies as resource officers, citing concerns about shootings at schools in various states.

He noted not all of them occurred in larger, urban areas.

“Whatever we can do to get law enforcement officers back in schools would be beneficial,” Knight told the commission.

Commission President A.J. Thomas said he and the other commissioners hadn’t discussed funding for resource officers with Brooke County school officials in some time but would be open to it.

“We’re here, we’re ready to talk,” he said, adding later, “I think there’s an opportunity for communication.”

But following the meeting, Thomas confirmed the commission isn’t likely to veer from the $90,000 it had allocated for each officer. He said the commission had hired sheriff’s deputies to serve in that capacity with the understanding they would be funded through the school’s operating levy.

“We wouldn’t need the extra officers if not for them (the school district) needing them,” he said.

In the past, the sheriff’s department had secured state grants to assign deputies to serve as resource officers at local schools.

The officers received training in handling various emergencies, such as the presence of an active shooter, and often spoke with students about issues involving law enforcement.

When state grants for the officers became more difficult to obtain, school officials suggested including money for them in the school district’s five-year operating levy when it was up for renewal in 2019.

But following its passage, they reported finding a $3.2 million shortfall in funds generated by it and asked the commission to contribute $240,000 for the officers’ benefits.

The commissioners declined, saying they hadn’t budgeted for them, and have since laid off four officers who had been assigned to schools.

School officials said language in the levy allowed them to use money from it to hire security guards instead.

It states $1,434,355 is to be used for “health, safety and security enhancements, including, but not limited to, the provision before and after care costs, new playground and Wellness Center equipment, engagement of Resource Officers and additional security for each of the schools located in Brooke County, the purchase and/or rental of uniforms (and related equipment and/or costs) for service personnel, capital improvements, renovations and repair of facilities for the health, safety and security of students, staff and guests and to comply with fire marshal, health, Americans with Disabilities Act, EPA and OSHA standards.”

In addition to the guards, the school district employs Paul Pownall, a Wellsburg police officer at Brooke Middle School, through an agreement with that city, and John White, a former Brooke County sheriff’s deputy who had served as a resource officer, to oversee them.

White recently organized an active shooter drill involving school staff and local law enforcement agencies and announced plans to conduct others.

Jeffrey Crook, Brooke County superintendent of schools, couldn’t be reached for comment.

In other business, the commissioners approved an agreement allowing American Electric Power to build a transmission tower in an area along the Brooke County Pioneer Trail near Beech Bottom, where it has established other towers.

The commissioners said the county will receive a one-time payment of $3,000 for use of the property, but it wasn’t clear if the existing towers will be removed.

County Commissioner Stacey Wise said crews with the power company are expected to be clearing trees near the trail within the next two months, which may affect access to areas of it at times.

She noted a section between the Smith Oil gas station and the future abutment for the new Ohio River Bridge to accommodate the span’s construction.

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