PINE BELT (WDAM) - Most every school district has some type of security officer or school resource officer to serve in some type of law enforcement capacity.
From Petal, Jones and Lamar County School Districts, their hiring process is similar, and it's one of the toughest positions to fill.
"They're our first means of safety and protection of course, first line of defense," said Lamar County Superintendent Tess Smith.
Before any of those officers ever step foot on school grounds, the hiring process is tedious.
"They're going to be the line of defense for our children, and our staff," Smith said. "So we need to make sure they are more than capable, that there's nothing in their background."
"Resource officers are held to a very very high level, because they are equipped with the equipment to make sure that they protect us, and with that comes a lot of responsibility, and we want to make sure we vet them very closely," said Petal Superintendent Matt Dillon.
"It basically starts with an extensive interview process, multi-layered," Smith said. "When they make it through that part of the process, then the testing begins, everything from a polygraph…physiological, all kind of background assessments."
Screenings include things like social media checks, FBI and state level checks, according to Petal School District Police Chief Gavin Guy.
"When you put an application in here at the Petal School District, of course we go through an intense background check," Guy said. "We check the social media, we check with the community, we check with the local agencies, we do a FBI and state background check on them."
However, it still goes more in-depth than that.
"We follow the best practices of hiring, as outlined as recommendations from the board on law enforcement officer's standards and training in Jackson," said Lamar County School District Police Chief Steve Rosser. "Those best practices include, a process that includes the applicate making and an application, submitting a resume. From there we screen the applicants, to get qualified individuals, those qualified individuals, just going there, there must be a minimum of 23 years of age, they must have at least three years of law enforcement experience, they must be certified as a law enforcement officer in the state of Mississippi, no felony convictions or serious criminal history, must be a U.S. citizen, high school graduate, be of good moral character, and from there we screen to find the applicants that we will interview that meet those qualifications."
"Then the next step is, we conduct an oral interview, at the conclusion of that oral interview we have a board of our officers that are on the interview board, we determine whether or not that individual will move forward in our selection process," said Rosser. "The next step is a second interview, with myself and the deputy chief. We meet with the individual and from there we move into our selection process, where we send them for a medical examination, a physiological examination, polygraph examination, a drug screen and also from there we will go into our background investigation, we have them complete a very large packet questioner on information and that will do our background investigation and also run them on fingerprinting, background check, NCIC."
"We talk to other law enforcement officials through various circles that we have to get a better understanding of their personality, their mannerisms and what they are about," said Dillon.
"Kind of dig a little deeper, want to know if they are a people person, and things if they would work good with kids," Guy said.
For all districts, under the Mississippi Department of Education guidelines, one of the requirements is being a certified law enforcement officer.
Jones County Superintendent Tommy Parker said the application doesn't even get reviewed if they are not certified.
"We hire only certified law enforcement officers as our school resource officers," said Parker.
Another reason the application process is so lengthy, every officer may not be cut out to handle the environment.
"Some may not be a good match for being on campuses with kids, juveniles and young adults, and its important they be able to interact with that particular population of school students," Parker said.
Resource officers deal with everything from car wrecks on school grounds, angry parents and deal with plenty of extracurricular activities.
"It's a different atmosphere when you're in a school, laws are different than it is out on a patrol," Guy said. "You can't do the things that you can do on patrol in the school environment."
Lamar County employees 12 officers, but is currently staffed at 11, with one opening. Petal has five, and Jones County has four.
Some may think resource officers aren't actually law enforcement, but for Jones, Lamar and Petal, they all have full departments, all with full law enforcement powers, and they play a large role in students' lives.
"In the school, you're a police officer first, and then you're a mentor," Guy said. "You want to mentor the kids you want to help them while they're in school."
"It's much like you see community policing, within your community, you want it to be where they are out building relationships, talking to students in the hallways, talking to faculty members, getting to know them on personal level and we think from there once they have that trust level they are going to be better equipped to let people know things that are going on that we might need to be aware of," Dillon said. "We take that very seriously and we want our police officers out and about and working with our students and eating lunch with our students and being a part of that campus life."
For some officers, it can simply be just being a friend.
"We don't know what their problems are at home, so when they come to school we might be that person that they need to talk to," Guy said. "I've been known to get out there and throw the football with them, and get on the playground with the kids before."
"Well I know our parents are giving us their most precious possession each and every day and that's their students and we take that very seriously," said Dillon.
School Resource Officer: An officer commissioned by a local law enforcement agency or school district, who is certified by the Mississippi Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training as a full-time Police Officer. The officer must be at least 23 years of age and have three years of full time law enforcement experience prior to assignment as an SRO. The officer is responsible for law enforcement, law related education, security/crisis planning administration, and mentoring of students.
Full Time Law Enforcement Experience: Experience as a commissioned officer performing actual police duties involving the public. Correctional or security experience is not applicable. Years of experience required can vary from district to district.
The SRO Basic Course is 56 hours in length and focuses on training in the following areas:
School Safety Law
School Safety Planning
School Safety Assessment
The hiring process varies from district to district, but all are obligated to follow the Mississippi Department of Education standards.