Tennessee's SRO training participation increases with new state funding (2024)

Cadets from across Tennessee completed a 40-hour specialized School Resource Officer training at the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy in Donelson this week, as officials say participation and interest in serving in schools has increased since the Covenant School shooting last year.

“It’s a complex job," said William Kain, director of the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy.

He said officers must take their training and add on top of it the complexity of an agreement with a school district and its needs, along with federal law about juveniles. On top of that, officers must make connections with children and adults and "gain trust from all age groups," he said.

As of this week, a total of 96 School Resource Officers from police departments and Sheriff's offices across the state have completed the mandatory 40 hours of intensive training on school protection scenarios at the academy so far this year. That's up from 37 SROs trained there last year.

“There is a definite uptick, a definite heightened interest in being an SRO,” said Jennifer Peck, deputy commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, which runs the Law Enforcement Training Academy.

New funding prompts more SRO placements

Following the Covenant shooting, state lawmakers approved $140 million in new funding to place an SRO in each of the 1,863 public schools in the state, in addition to grant funding to support facility security upgrades.

Another $30 million was allocated to place a Tennessee Homeland Security agent in each county to coordinate school safety plans.As of last November, more than 300 new SROs had been placed in schools via the new funding.

But prior to the new grant programs, SRO placements had tapered off.

During the 2022-23 school year, 53% of elementary schools, 21% of middle schools, and 27% of high schools had SROs placed in them, according to the 2024 Annual Safe Schools Report published by the Tennessee Department of Education. There were a total of 1,260 officers placed across the state, according to the report.

SROs in training this week had a session with one of the officers who responded to the fatal shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville last March.

“To get to hear his perspective and, you know, try to put yourself in his shoes and see what could potentially happen, it was nice to get to hear that and just have a broader perspective,” said Kayla McVey, an officer with the McNairy County Sheriff’s Office.

Tennessee's SRO training participation increases with new state funding (2)

Sparked by Uvalde

After the 2022 mass school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed, Gov. Bill Lee established an Enhanced School Safety Working Group comprised of representatives from the Department of Commerce and Insurance, which runs the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy in Donelson, the Department of Safety and Homeland Security, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and the Department of Education. The group works to collaborate on school safety strategies and a curriculum for SRO training.

“After Uvalde, the state made a commitment to making sure that that doesn’t happen in Tennessee: the response to that would be appropriate,” Kain said. “That’s where this SRO school was born, out of the desire to train these SROs and provide our kids in this state with the very best protection that they can have in a school.”

Tennessee's SRO training participation increases with new state funding (3)

All SROs are also commissioned law enforcement officers. State law requires all SROs to go through a 40-hour training on school policing and working on school campuses in additional to police training. SRO training includes classes on topics like conflict resolution, relationship building and supporting students with disabilities. SROs are also required to complete 16 hours of training each year.

“Out of that cooperation and collaboration that developed, we were able to put together this SRO school," Kain said.

The group continues to meet to strategize school safety protocols, threat assessments, and school resource officer placements, according to the 2024 Safe Schools Report produced by the Tennessee Department of Education.

“The whole point was to protect our schools at a higher level,” Peck said.

Specialized school resource officer training at the academy in Donelson is offered at no cost to police departments and sheriff’s offices across the state.

Tennessee's SRO training participation increases with new state funding (4)

One of the instructors is Dee Reynolds, a former lifelong educator who became a police officer. She brings her experiences as a middle school teacher and eight years in school administration to share with cadets.

"In my 23 years of education, I have seen the SRO program pretty much start and then grow to where it is now," Reynolds said. "In the beginning, I feel like the SROs were there as protectors, there when they were needed in emergencies. Now, I see these SROs more as mentors to those children who may not have that person in their lives."

Vivian Jones covers state politics and government for The Tennessean. Reach her atvjones@tennessean.com or on X @Vivian_E_Jones.

Tennessee's SRO training participation increases with new state funding (2024)
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