Little Rock AR Nov 8 2016 The Little Rock School District was a bit of an oddity when it came to elementary school security -- for every school, one security officer.
But with the anticipated loss of annual desegregation funding, the district's Safety and Security department had to find a way to do more with less, said department director Ronald Self. That led the department to look at how they approached elementary school security, and prompted Self to reach out to larger schools districts such as Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas.
"Nobody had security officers inside their elementary schools, and nobody in the state of Arkansas had them," Self said. "So we made the decision to pull all security officers from the elementary schools."
At the beginning of this school year, the Little Rock School District rolled out its new mobile security system that allows security officers to drive to multiple schools to do security checks, instead of being stationed at each elementary school.
Instead of having 33 security officers at its elementary schools, the school district now has a 12-officer mobile patrol unit equipped with 2016 Ford Taurus vehicles they use to drive to multiple elementary schools.
After the 2017-18 school year, the school district will no longer receive $37.3 million a year in state desegregation funding, according to previous reports. Self estimates the new mobile security system will save approximately $750,000 a year for the school district.
The mobile unit's focus is on elementary schools and monitoring bus stops, Self said, but they can also be used to respond to middle and high schools, which continue to have security officers on campus.
In September alone, the department conducted more than 1,900 "school checks," where officers checked doors, walked through schools and talked with school administrators.
"When they leave that school, they are directly going to another school," Self said.
Ira Nicholson, 48, who has spent 10 years with the security force, said it's been a relatively smooth transition to the new mobile system, with a few adjustments.
In years past, he only patrolled one elementary school. That's compared now with the nine elementary schools in his zone, which also has two other patrol vehicles. It's been a bit of a challenge, he said, figuring out the layout of multiple schools and getting to know the various principals.
Although he covers more schools, Nicholson said he still strives to be a positive influence for students, talking to them about their grades and building relationships if they have challenging home lives.
"Some of these kids, they don't have fathers in their homes," he said.
All 12 of the mobile security unit's vehicles are marked. Self said the department did not want people to mistake the vehicles for local law enforcement, so they created a separate color scheme and use amber lights on the top of their vehicles.
The school security officers are not certified law enforcement officers and do not carry a firearm while on the job. Self-estimated that about 80 to 85 percent of the department's officers have former military or law enforcement experience.
School security guards differ from the Little Rock Police Department's school resource officers, who are trained law enforcement officers and are stationed in every Little Rock public high school.
Officer Richard Hilgeman, Little Rock Police Department spokesman, said school resource officers offer a higher level of security for schools and are armed in case of an emergency or school shooting situation.
"That's unfortunately the climate that we're living in," he said.
Aside from security, Hilgeman said a police officer's presence on campus often deters crime and allows the department to create a positive relationship with students.
School resource officers also have the authority to deal with criminal incidents that come up on campus, whereas security officers are responsible for monitoring school grounds, checking the halls and making sure there are no unwanted people in the building, Self said.
Although the security guards are not law enforcement officers, the school security department does a one-week, in-service training with the security officers in the summer before the school year. In the past, the department has brought in speakers on drugs, gangs and defensive tactics, Self said.
Security officers have to deal with a number of tense situations, such as an angry parent, or a disruptive student acting up in class, and are trained to de-escalate situations with only their voices, he said.
"In a lot of situations," he said. "It's all about how you talk to someone."