- Associated Press - Sunday, May 28, 2017

ATLANTA (AP) - Police officers forced out of law enforcement agencies have been able to find jobs in Georgia’s public schools, even after being accused at their old jobs of using a stun gun on a handcuffed woman, beating people, lying and other offenses, state records show.

Statewide, school system police departments employ officers who have been terminated or resigned under the cloud of an investigation at twice the rate of local police departments in Georgia, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV revealed.

About 12 percent of the 656 officers working in the state’s 31 school police departments have been forced out of a previous job, versus about 6 percent of the officers who work in local police agencies, statistics show.

The data was obtained from the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, the newspaper reported (https://bit.ly/2qT7LwH).

Some officers working in Georgia schools were terminated or investigated at previous law enforcement jobs for a variety of reasons. Among them: chronically poor performance, lying to superiors, sexual misconduct and inappropriate use of force, according to documents from the standards and training council.

The Clayton County Public Schools police department has one of the highest rates of officers with troubled pasts. About 20 percent of its officers have previously been forced out of a police job - among the highest rates in Georgia for school police agencies with 20 officers or more officers, the newspaper reported.

“We have to do a better job of screening our officers,” Clayton County Superintendent Luvenia Jackson said. “If there are circumstances that we need to investigate further then, we need to do a better job at doing that.”

Jackson has directed Clayton Schools Police Chief Thomas Y. Trawick Jr. to review the backgrounds of officers on the force.

In Atlanta Public Schools, where officials started a new police force last year, about 14.1 percent of the sworn personnel in the 71-officer department have been fired or forced to resign from a previous position, according to state records from March.

“For the most part our officers have been very productive,” said Ron Applin, the department’s new chief. “While they may have made mistakes in the past, they’ve fared very well with us.”

Dougherty County Assistant Superintendent Jack Willis, who oversees his school system’s police department, said that past problems with another law enforcement agency shouldn’t automatically disqualify an officer.

“People make mistakes and there should be an opportunity to clean up your act and get a second chance,” Willis said. “Our position is the same as with our teachers. We support you if you’re right. We will not support you if you’re wrong.”

School resource officers are some of the most recognizable police officers in a community, according to Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), a nonprofit professional organization that focuses on training and school safety.

His group trains about 2,500 school resource officers (SRO) per year, but receives few requests to train officers in Georgia.

The role of a school resource officer is a unique one for police, requiring the right kind of person, Canady said. His group recommends that officers have clean disciplinary histories and show a track record of good judgment for jobs in schools.

School resource officers should work to bridge the gap between young people and law enforcement, Canady said. That requires understanding young people and the difference between discipline problems and criminal activity.

“We’re putting them in a situation where there’s a lot of trust involved,” he said. “Just like with any educators in schools, we’ve got to be able to trust them with students all day long.”


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