More Security for Bay County Elementary Schools?

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BAY COUNTY - Bay County school officials are considering some changes to make the district's elementary schools safer. The plan includes hiring some armed volunteer officers to patrol several schools.

For more than 30 years Officer Bill McCurdy worked as a Panama City police officer. Today he fights crime on a new level.

His primary focus now is keeping local elementary school students safe. It's something parents and students seem to appreciate..

"When you are not there and can't protect them, it is nice to know someone else will be there," said Heather Howell, a parent.

"It makes me feel a little bit safer," said Luke Guy, a 5th grade student at Lynn Haven elementary.

McCurdy is the only officer patrolling all bay district elementary schools. He travels between all of them.

"Every forseeable thing that has happened or we think may happen, we got a plan in place for it," said Ofc. Bill McCurdy, Assistant Security Chief of Bay District Schools.

It's hard to cover all elementary schools with just one man. Middle and high schools are patrolled with deputies from the Bay County Sheriff's Office.

McCurdy works directly for the district, under school security chief Mike Jones. Jones want more elementary school officers like McCurdy, which is a need that became more pressing after the Newtown, Connecticut shooting.

"Since Sandy Hook, it's changed everybody's way of doing things, across the United States, not just here in Bay County and so we have to work on those levels now," said Mike Jones, the district's security chief.

Safety comes at a price. Each deputy from the sheriff's office costs the district on average $57,000 a piece. The sheriff's office charges the district about $685,000 to cover all bay district middle and high schools.

If they were to expand to all elementary schools, that cost would skyrocket to more than a million bucks.

"We're constantly looking at trying to beef up security and make our schools safer. It just comes down to a funding issue," said Bill Husfelt, Bay District Schools Superintendent.

That's where Mike Jones' plan comes into play. He wants to hire volunteer officers to work elementary schools.

They would be certified law officers armed with a gun, badge, and handcuffs. They would be free at first, but eventually, paid with district funds that are about half the cost of a standard SRD.

Even more money could be saved by buying refurbished patrol cars.

"That gives a presence to let people know there are law enforcement officers here and a lot of times that deters crime," said Jones.

With Sheriff Frank McKeithen's deputies at middle and high schools and the district officers in the elementary schools, all bases could be covered.

"Whether they're my deputies or someone else's deputies, if they're certified and qualified to carry a firearm, then i have no issue with that," said Sheriff McKeithen.

Retired officers like Bill McCurdy are qualified and ready to keep the youngest students safe.

"Excited about going to work again. There was a time when I wasn't and now I feel like I can't wait. I can't wait," said McCurdy.

Jones plans to present the proposal to school board members sometime next month. If approved, elementary school parents and students could see officers on campus by the end of the school year.