BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - It’s been almost two years since Governor Ivey announced the SENTRY program to arm some administrators at Alabama schools who don’t have school resource officers.
“Until we place a school resource officer in every Alabama school, the best way an active shooter situation can be quickly resolved is through the Alabama SENTRY program,” Ivey said while rolling out the program in 2018. “We can wait no longer.”
The program’s been active since at least the beginning of this school year, but we know very little about it.
How many schools have a SENTRY-certified civilian with access to a gun near your child? The state won’t say, telling us that information is part of the SENTRY program’s safety plan. How many administrators has the program trained? How many schools now have SRO’s? Also questions ALEA says they won’t answer.
“I believe we need to be a little more open about the fact that we have an SRO program at some schools,” says Mo Canady, Executive Director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, based in Hoover. “Visibility is important, and while we may not discuss the numbers of officers in a school or where they’re going to be on a given day, the knowledge that they’re there is important.”
The NSROA says it has trained more SRO’s in Alabama last year than in previous years - an indication more systems are hiring.
“So it’s ongoing and we’re training people how to function in the school environment primarily as a law enforcement, but we also understand people who are more in the security realm also come to our training,” Canady says.
After multiple requests, ALEA did tell us SENTRY-certified administrators must have “valid concealed-carry pistol permit, must be appointed as a reserve sheriff’s deputy, must be an active school administrator in a public elementary or secondary school without an SRO, and must pass a drug screening, mental-health assessment and stress test. Sentries will be subject to random drug screenings, annual training, annual mental-health assessments and stress-test recertification.”
“We’re pretty clear in our feelings on who we would like to see in those roles, and that is sworn, certified law enforcement officers who are specifically trained how to work in a school environment,” says Canady. “Those are the people we would like to see armed in those situations.”
Though having a trained SRO on every Alabama campus is a goal that is at least several years away, Canady says, “I think our schools in this state have gotten safer over the last two years. And that’s really a tribute to everyone involved in that process.”