Dothan, AL (WSFA) - Dothan City Schools has started phasing in the new School Protection Officer (SPO) program. The system is working closely with Dothan Police to add officers with high powered weapons to patrol schools.
“This program has been in the works for several months now. We heard a cry from the community for more protection officers in all our schools,” said Scott Faulks, director of Safety, Security and Attendance.
The SPO program is one piece of the comprehensive school safety plan put together by the Dothan Police Department to help keep students and staff safe from things like a potential active shooter. This position is different than a School Resource Officer. An SPO has limited interaction with students and are strictly there for safety and security.
“Inside the school. Outside the school. Where students gather the most - lunch time, morning bus duty, after school bus duty,” said Faulk. “We want everybody to be aware that there is someone at the school there to protect students, parents, teachers.”
“You have to remember, every year something changes that provides that need for a different set of securities when it comes to our children,” said Division Field Lieutenant Maurice Eggleston.
The officers in the schools have upwards of 20 years in law enforcement and previously worked at police departments, sheriff’s offices, or the state trooper’s office.
The five staffed currently rotate between Cloverdale, Faine, Selma Street, Hidden Lake, Grandview, Girard Elementary, and Kelly Springs.
The SPOs are armed with a pistol, taser, and an AR-15 - not a typical sight in an school.
“I know there is a lot of concern about the look of it,” said Faulk.
The school previously sent out letters to parents before the SPOs went to schools informing them about the extra security.
Police say the heavily-armed guards - with AR-15s slung across their chest would be more prepared if an active shooter tried to enter a school.
“A long gun is preferred when you’re trying to engage a target from distances away,” said Eggleston. “They have to be Johnny on the spot right there. They have to be the one when it happens. They don’t have time to run to their car and retrieve that weapon.”
The system and police department are looking to hire 5-6 more SPOs before the end of the school year. Faulk couldn’t give specifics on cost, but said they are looking at school safety grants to continue funding.
Because this is something new, Dothan police and Dothan City Schools are asking parents to continue to talk with their students about what an SPO is and their role in schools.