Mehlville board eyes placing police officers at elementary schools

Having officers in buildings ‘best deterrent,’ Knost says

By Kari Williams

The Mehlville Board of Education will consider placing police officers at district elementary schools when it meets tonight — Jan. 10.

The board will meet at 7 p.m. at the Mehlville Senior High School Library, 3200 Lemay Ferry Road.

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead, Superintendent Eric Knost told the Call he feels a responsibility to the community to have a “legitimate discussion” about what the district can do in regard to school safety.

“I think we owe that to our parents that are concerned and our community members that are concerned,” Knost said.

Information Knost provided to the board states the district has received “an enormous number of concerns, as well as recommendations, in the wake of the recent tragedy in Connecticut.”

“Many of the recommendations are not feasible and/or are ineffective measures,” Knost wrote. “The administration believes research has clearly defined the presence of police officers as the most effective deterrent for such safety threats.”

Knost’s recommendation is to hire secondary police officers to monitor elementary schools and the John Cary Early Child-hood Center. School Resource Officers, or SROs, currently are at Mehlville and Oakville high schools and the district’s four middle schools. The middle school SROs also monitor 10 elementary schools.

“This means we do not consistently have a police officer present during school hours on all of our campuses,” Knost wrote.

Secondary police officers are officers hired by the district when they are off-duty at a rate of $25 per hour as “uniformed, armed police officers,” according to Knost.

SROs are contracted in partnership with the district and the St. Louis County Police Department to work for the district during the school year. SROs work for the St. Louis County police during the summer.

SROs also cover the Witzel Learning Center during school hours, both high schools from 2 to 4 p.m. and “various evenings for substantial events such as football games, basketball games, board meetings,” according to information provided to the board.

Knost said he believes having police officers in district buildings is the “best deterrent.”

“We’re just going to have a discussion that if we’re going to do anything, to me, this is the only viable option, the only feasible option,” he said. “I don’t see us (with) fog machines in our hallways that we can trigger so (intruders) can be lost in the fog … If we’re going to spend money, the number one deterrent, again, is more officers.”

To add full-time secondary officers for the remainder of the school year would cost roughly $163,000, according to Knost.

The superintendent previously told the Call that after winter break, Mehlville and Oakville high schools would have buzzer systems installed on the front entrances as a safety measure.

He told the Call last week that buzzers at both high schools are wired, but the equipment keeps evolving and different pieces had to be ordered. As of Jan. 7, Knost said the buzzer systems should be operational.