School security divides Poquoson City Council


UPDATE: The Poquoson School Board voted unanimously March 20 in support of a school resource officer (SRO) program. The letter is directed to Mayor Gene Hunt and says an SRO would forge relationships with students and also provide additional security.

POQUOSON, Va. (WAVY) – Councilman Thomas Cannella requested a work session be scheduled to talk about the hiring of a full-time school resource officer, but Mayor Gene Hunt refused to put it on the calendar due to a lack of support from the rest of the council.

“Considering the outreach of the community, I think it certainly warrants a conversation,” said Cannella, adding the resource officer provides more than security. “They provide teaching and counseling to students … they are law enforcement officers and they have knowledge and skills that are not necessarily found in the school system.”

Cannella made the request at Monday’s meeting. Councilwoman Jana Andrews expressed support for a conversation, but no one else on the council spoke in support.

“We talked about this very subject about seven months ago, and we talked about it and decided our response structure was correct,” said Hunt.

The mayor says the Poquoson Police Department is able to respond to all four schools in the district within two minutes. There’s also a police office inside Poquoson High School that is staffed on average “a few hours a week,” according to Police Chief Clifford Bowen, as part of a police liaison program that allows officers to do their normal work from the school.

Bowen and Superintendent Jennifer Parish say they support the idea of a full-time SRO, but they both told the city council needs to approve the hiring of additional police personnel.

Still, Parish says the schools are safe. She outlined school safety measures in a video in Aug. 2017. 

Hunt says he’s never received a request from the Poquoson School Board but has directed the police department to increase their office hours at the high school in the past.

“We’ve always monitored that by the current threat perspective that’s out there,” said Hunt.

Kara Catlett, a mother of two children, says the deadly shootings in Parkland, Florida, last month opened her eyes to the need for additional security.

“It just shakes my soul. I wonder what’s happening to mankind,” said Catlett, who grew up in Poquoson.

Catlett has organized a meeting at 2 p.m. on Sunday, March 18 at the Poquoson Public Library. She hopes students, parents, teachers and other members of the community will show up to talk about improving school safety.

She says the next step will be making requests directly to the city council.

“My hope is that we can just stop thinking that we are immune to the changes that are happening in this world.”

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