Maryville, Blount County (WVLT) - Amidst tragic news headlines of three fatal school shootings in two weeks, Blount County Sheriff Jim Berrong is not taking action to simutaneaously protect the half dozen schools caught up in the middle of a dispute between Berrong and Blount County Commission over funding for Berrong's department.
When the dispute was at its peak, Berrong pulled officers out of schools saying he wouldn't have the money to protect the children. He then agreed to put officers back into some schools, but still left some half dozen schools and their hundreds of children unprotected.
There may be some relief in the offing, but Berrong's office is sending mixed signals. On a day the Sheriff was telling WVLT Volunteer TV's Stephen McLamb that he would continue asking county commission for more money and nothing would happen until he got it, one of his chief deputies was telling a Knoxville newspaper that indeed one veteran deputy would soon be floating between the six unprotected schools.
No indication right now as to whether this is a reflection of a change of heart by Berrong or a serious internal communications problem within the Sheriff's department. We'll continue investigating this story and pass along developments as they are learned.
Stephen McLamb picks up the story from here with his one-on-one conversation with Sheriff Berrong.
The images of recent school shootings across America has Blount county families thinking what could happen after ten school resource officers were cut this year.
"They are definitely missed because they have a place and a role that they perform especially in this day in time," says Alvin Hord, Blount Schools Superintendent.
The officers were cut in the budget process and the sheriff says he didn't have a choice because of increasing calls in a growing county.
"We had to have them on the road to respond to calls. We asked for more deputies and did not receive help," says Blount County Sheriff Jim Berrong.
Recent events did not prompt local officials to put school resource officers in all schools but a hostage situation seven years ago did.
"This community was shown in 1999 that it can happen here. Fortunately, it wasn't to the magnitude that's happened recently," Sheriff Berrong says.
But school shootings serve as a reminder for many parents the need for resource officers.
"You never know when it might happen in your own community because there's no really good reason for what happened," says Kim Evans, a Blount County parent.
School officials say it's more than safety the officers bring.
"They can identify with kids and can be a support to them and a lot of students need that support," Hord says.
Needless to say, some parents feel the officers are wanted and needed.
"I believe it's needed in all the schools of course. Wish every one of them would have it," says Scot Tyler.
"It always makes you feel more comfortable to have somebody there if there's a problem," adds Kim Evans.
Sheriff Berrong says he hopes that more officers won't have to be taken from schools to fill the need on the streets.
He says he plans to ask the county commission to restore the funding in the next fiscal year for resource officers in all the schools.