MARIETTA — Pebblebrook High School parents and leaders are calling on the school district to create a night shift for police officers on their campus.
Supporters of an evening police presence say incidents that have taken place after normal school hours warrant an on-site officer, while district officials say hiring and funding police officers is an ongoing challenge.
Leroy “Tre” Hutchins, who serves as president of the South Cobb PTA Council, brought the request to the Cobb school board recently. Hutchins is also a candidate for the Cobb school board, who has announced his intent to challenge board member David Morgan in this year’s elections.
Morgan, who represents Pebblebrook, did not respond to request for comment.
Hutchins said he and other members of the Pebblebrook community have been asking since April that the shifts of the three school district police officers assigned to Pebblebrook be staggered to accommodate the requests of concerned parents. The move would avoid the cost of hiring a new officer, and the staggered shift would likely end as late as 9 p.m., he said.
The fact that Pebblebrook has more officers on site than other area schools, he added, shows the district is aware of the need for better security at the school.
Hutchins said his ask comes after students have been robbed on campus or as they left campus after hours. And even when incidents have been cases of distasteful horseplay — such as when a group of students videoed themselves acting as if they were going to run down fellow students with their car — a police presence could remedy the situation, he said.
“We have an issue at Pebblebrook that needs to be addressed, in terms of safety,” Hutchins said, adding that there were five occasions last school year where a loaded firearm was brought on campus.
In one of those incidents, he said, the student brought the gun to school because he felt the district’s security measures were not adequate.
“He was robbed at gunpoint in the school parking lot (after hours). ... He thought, ‘At this point, I’m going to have to protect myself.’ He in turn went and tried to purchase a gun from another student,” Hutchins said. “This guy who was about to graduate — a B student — made a stupid decision, but he felt like he needed to keep a gun in his car to protect him.”
School council: Pebblebrook has been labeled “unsafe”
Concerned parents and school leadership are pushing for the night police presence both for the safety of Pebblebrook students and to stave off the “unsafe” label that has been placed on the school, according to Tonia Nelson, president of the Pebblebrook School Council and mother of a Pebblebrook senior.
Nelson said while police are on site for sports games and other scheduled events, they are not on campus for practices or theater rehearsals, which take place throughout the year. Any time there are students on campus after hours, there should also be a police officer, she said.
“Right now, the perception in the county is that Pebblebrook is not safe,” Nelson said. “And we as parents and staff on the council are trying to remedy that. ... We’re trying to keep Pebblebrook viable for students who are in the attendance zone and for students who might want to come to the zone.”
She noted that an officer would also deter would-be thieves from preying on cars parked in the school’s parking lots.
Hutchins and Nelson said when they met with district and school police officials last spring, they were told the district would study the issue and get back to them. When the district gave a definitive response months later, the Pebblebrook group was told the district police department didn’t have the resources to stagger shifts, the two said.
“If it’s a matter of resources — money or whatever the case — we’re now going to the school board to say, ‘You need to look at the advisement from April of last year and ... we need to accommodate with additional resources,” he said. “Look at the situation again, work with their employee, which is the superintendent, and he can work with his staff to accommodate the needs of the community.”
In a statement, School District Police Chief Ron Storey said staggering shifts of police officers assigned to Pebblebrook would reduce the number of available officers during the school day. Storey said the district has considered the staggered shift option, but doesn’t see it as viable.
“To best protect students, staff, and the campus, specific details about Cobb Schools’ police support at Pebblebrook won’t be made available. As is the case for all metro police departments, finding qualified police officers, and the funds to support our 67 police officers, is a consistent challenge,” Storey said in the statement. “(We) want to make sure we have the right number of officers on campus when our students and staff have the highest need, which is during the school day.”
Randy Scamihorn: Hutchins’ request warrants closer look
School board member Randy Scamihorn said the district wants all students and families to feel safe during regular school hours or after school, and staff does everything in its power to ensure student safety.
Scamihorn said, with that in mind, he finds Hutchins’ request reasonable enough to warrant a closer look at the need for a night police presence.
“I’m a strong supporter of student safety, whether it’s during school or at after-school activities. That’s paramount,” Scamihorn said. “We want our students and parents to feel safe coming and going to all our activities, especially during the evenings.”
But in terms of a final decision, Scamihorn said he would defer to the Cobb County School District Police Department and Superintendent Chris Ragsdale.
Ragsdale did not respond to request for comment.
Scamihorn also pointed to the new cameras and Alert Point security system he said are being installed at Pebblebrook and other schools around the county. Once fully installed, he said the security system will allow teachers and administrative staff to report an incident and elicit police response immediately, if needed.
To that, Hutchins said Alert Point has been present in some schools for two to three years, and Pebblebrook staff should have been fully trained and the system installed by the start of the semester in January.
In addition to the new police officer shift and the incoming Alert Point system, Hutchins said the school council has asked for a mobile security camera unit in the parking lot near the theater to capture video of incidents when they take place.
But, he pointed out, “the cameras only allow you to see something after it’s happened.”