An at-times contentious debate led to the Quorum Court tabling its vote for funding a Special Response Team for the Van Buren County Sheriff’s office at its regular meeting last Thursday, April 19.
The Special Response Team was first proposed to the Court at its March meeting, but Sheriff’s Department investigator Wesley Potts. Potts had requested funding for equipment which would allow six deputies to be trained and equipped for instances such as hostage taking.
The debate broke down into two factions, one of which was prepared to fund the SRT that night, and the second which had questions about the funding and operations of an SRT. Response to school shooter events was brought up several times, including by Potts.
Justice Dale James, as the funding ordinance was introduced, expressed concern that the county was already spending more per month than it had in the previous year, which the $30,000 would only impact further. A question arose from this is the funds should come from carry-over monies, as proposed in the ordinance.
“I can’t approve this coming from carry-over money,” James said.
Kim Hunley, county treasurer, backed up Jame’s assertion, that as the ordinance was written it was charging the money to an improper line item, due to the $30,000 expense.
Justice Brian Tatum, suggested the money come from a separate fund as the county “needs an established team.”
“We need to go forward with this,” Tatum said.
As funding was reviewed, Justice Jackie Sikes suggest a fundraiser to provide the money for equipment.
Justice Todd Burgess presented exceptions to funding at that meeting. Countering Pott’s presentation that the team would be important in a school shooting situation, Burgess said: “This isn’t a school thing, this is a hostage team.”
“We are eight months from a new sheriff,” Burgess said, “I don’t think it’s fair to peg it [SRT] to the emotional issue of school safety.”
Potts said the team formation would include training for SRO officers.
Ultimately it was Justice Dell Holt who proposed the matter be tabled, especially in light of Sheriff Randy Gurley not at the meeting to answer questions about SRT logistics and operations, including funding concerns. (Gurley was out sick for the evening.)
“I’m sorry guys,” Holt said, introducing the motion to table, “There’s not enough to know what’s going on in his [Gurley’s] head. And we don’t have $30,000 right now.”
Even with this there was some frustration expressed, with Justice John Bradford addressing the court: “Does anybody want to look in the mirror at themselves….” then trailing off.
The court voted to table the funding ordinance until its next meeting.
After the meeting Bradford expressed frustration with the matter being tabled: “I was voted by the people of District 6 for two reasons,” he said, “good roads and safety.”
Potts, also, clarified his vision for the SRT, expressing that “every team is different.”
Van Buren County’s SRT would train School Resource Officers (SROs) as part of its structure, so that those officers would be able to make an initial response in a school emergency. This has not been done by any other SRT, he said.
He pointed to himself and Tatum, a Game and Fish officer, as two who had purchased their own weapons and paid for their own training some years ago in order to provide this level of protection for the county. (Tatum nodded in agreement.)