PUTNAM COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) – Safety is top of mind as school districts across Tennessee are preparing for the new year. In Putnam County, law enforcement agencies are undergoing training this week.
“Our SRO SWAT training started today,” Sheriff Eddie Farris said Monday. “I spoke with them this morning as a group, we had several other counties joining us.”
He said each year there are several meetings with discussions about the previous school year and the measures that need improvement. According to the sheriff, deputies go through 40 hours of training each year that includes SWAT and active shooter training.
“The sheriff’s offices and the police departments, depending on who have SROs in the schools, are the primary go-to lead agency for safety in our schools,” Sheriff Farris said. “We do that in partnering with the school administrators. We work with them each year on getting better and hardening their schools. For instance: camera and video. Are we able to see the whole person when they enter the school before they entered so we can tell if they’ve got anything in their hands?”
During the summer months deputies attend school resource officers conferences to stay up-to-date on the latest trends and techniques.
This year, the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas is top of mind for parents, the school community, and law enforcement across the country. Sheriff Farris said over the years they have learned from the mistakes of other law enforcement agencies when looking at their own training tactics. And his deputies are trained to run towards the threat in the event of an active shooter.
“Time is of essence, if we wait, there’s a good chance somebody else is getting hurt or killed,” said Sheriff Farris. “So, we cannot wait. I’ve told my SRO, my faculty, if we are waiting, if we have to wait and the threat is not eliminated before other law enforcement arrives, then we’ve not done what we’re supposed to do.”
The county has 19 public schools that are covered by school resource officers with two SROs at the high school. Deputies train with a virtual simulator the sheriff’s office purchased a few years ago to help them understand what a real-life-scenario would look like. It’s a tool Putnam County offers to other municipalities for training as well.
Sheriff Farris explained how placing SROs has changed over the years.
“I’m sorry to say this, it was the wrong thing to do, but 30 years ago an SRO was a deputy, or a police officer who was probably primarily at the end of their career, you know, maybe they were older, maybe they had some issues, and so they were placed in a school or a school setting to be more of a security guard instead of a police officer,” said Sheriff Farris. “How has that changed. Now, we have some of our best if not the best deputies placed in our schools.”
He said not only do these officers have SWAT and active shooter training but most have been working in that environment for much of their career including those with advanced military training.
Sheriff Farris said each year they talk with school district leaders about ways to improve school safety because communication is key when responding to an active shooter. He added another key part of their preparation is working to prevent these situations from happening in the first place.
“When we receive a possible threat or a threat, or some kind of statement-making that could be impacted in a negative way, or in a violent way, we don’t wait till tomorrow. We can’t wait for two weeks. We can’t wait for that to come to fruition and then decide, ‘oh, maybe we need to do something,'” said Sheriff Farris. “We investigate. We use whatever tools we need to bring in whatever we need to help us do that. And we find a resolution immediately.”
He said that’s why he encourages faculty and students to speak up if they notice something concerning regarding school safety, so they can all be a part of the effort of keeping the community safe.
“Kids are great, and that’s one of our most precious resources,” Sheriff Farris said. “We certainly want to try to protect those and let them have a long lasting life and impact on our communities and our country.”