Aberdeen School District initiates new campus police department

By Ray Van Dusen/Monroe Journal

ABERDEEN – Following an incident at the graduation ceremony in May, the city decided Aberdeen Police Department officers will no longer serve the primary resource officers for the Aberdeen School District.

To address the presence of in-house security within the schools of the district, the Aberdeen School Board voted in its regular July meeting to initiate an Aberdeen School District Campus Police Department.

Mississippi Department of Education guidelines state for districts to activate their own campus police, the school board must approve the motion, they must provide uniforms and supplies, swear in as many officers in as the district deems necessary and ensure they’re licensed to carry a firearm.

“The campus police can patrol up to 600 feet around school properties, otherwise they have the same authority as any other Mississippi law enforcement officer,” said Chester Leigh, superintendent of the Aberdeen School District.

The Mississippi Department of Education requires districts to hire certified law enforcement officers with three years experience who will complete 40 hours of continuing education training each year in addition to school resource officer training.

Aberdeen School District’s two new resource officers will be Tony Tillman, who has served with the Aberdeen Police Department, and Foncie Sims, who has served with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department. Collectively the two have more than 20 years law enforcement experience.

“Not only will they serve as resource officers, but also as mentors. The officers will also provide character education to the students so it’s a great benefit to the district,” Leigh said.

Aberdeen School District chief financial officer, Phonecia Witherspoon, polled 30 school districts’ business managers throughout the state and the average cost for salary and benefits for a fulltime campus police officer is $37,000.

“We’d have to add additional funds, but right now we’re using a $37,000 grant to offset the lack of a resource officer. Seeing as how this grant has decreased during the past six years, the districts would eventually have to cover the costs,” Witherspoon said.

Some school districts still work with local law enforcement agencies for large events such as games and graduations and others have volunteers who help provide security for these types of events.

At least one of the campus police officers will be on duty for all afterschool activities.

“The chief of police has told us if we need any additional help, the APD will support us and we really appreciate the city’s assistance,” Leigh said.