GRADY COUNTY SCHOOL SYSTEM POLICE Chief Redell Walton conducted pre and post planning sessions to prepare for the first home game of the football season and evaluate what can be improved upon.
Public criticism leveled against the Grady County School System for security during the recent Cairo vs. Bainbridge football game and traffic control before and after the game prompted a call for Grady County School System Police Chief Redell Walton to update the members of the board of education this week during the board’s monthly meeting.
“Several of you were contacted and I had one person contact me concerning security and traffic for the game so I’ve asked Chief Walton to report to you the planning process leading up to the game and what our plans are going forward,” Grady County School Superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard said Tuesday.
The newly formed school system police force was the lead agency for security at the football game and for directing traffic that evening.
Chief Walton said the pregame planning involved himself, Cairo High School Principal Chris Lokey, Athletic Director and Assistant Principal Tom Fallaw, Grady County Sheriff Harry Young and CHS School Resource Officer Gary Hines.
Dr. Gilliard and Chief Walton said the school system police depended on assistance from the Grady County Sheriff’s Office, the Decatur County Sheriff’s Office and the Decatur County School System Police along with the five members of the school system police to work the big rivalry game.
Cairo Police Department officers did not assist with working game security or in directing traffic as in years past. Chief Walton reported that he was told the cost for city officers to assist with game security and traffic control would be $35 per hour, per officer.
“We had great support from Sheriff Young and Sheriff Griffin plus the SROs from Decatur County,” Chief Walton said. Walton also thanked the members of the CHS NJROTC for their assistance with parking and traffic control before the game.
According to Walton, the Decatur County personnel primarily covered the area on the visitors side or east side of West Thomas Stadium.
Lawmen attempted to keep the area behind the west stands clear of loitering, but Chief Walton said it would have taken 20 officers to keep that area cleared during the duration of the game.
“There were no calls or issues reported during the game,” Chief Walton noted.
With changes to traffic flow onto the CHS campus, the number of access points has been reduced, which Chief Walton said contributed to the backlog of traffic with fans coming to the game.
“Traffic after the game went better than expected. We had officers at each end of Syrupmaker Drive and a Grady County Sheriff’s deputy was to have been located in front of the school at Fourth Avenue S.E., but he responded to a fight in (Cairo) cemetery,” Chief Walton explained.
The chief said when law enforcement responded to the fight in the cemetery many of those congregating in the area moved across Fifth Street S.E. where reports of two more fights broke out following the game.
Chief Walton said that any CHS students identified to have been involved will be banned from school activities for the remainder of the year.
Board member Laura Register questioned the lack of presence by the city police force both during and after the game. “I don’t understand why we can’t all get along and work together,” she said.
Register asked if the school system had paid city officers for game security or traffic control in the past. Both School Superintendent Dr. Kermit Gilliard and Finance Director Dan Broome both said the system had never paid city police nor been asked to pay for their service in the past.
“So, they didn’t help with traffic on city streets?” Register asked. “No,” Dr. Gilliard said.
School officials said the only difference this year and in football seasons past is that the school system organized its own force of School Resource Officers and ended a partnership with the city for the lone SRO that previously served the needs of the school system.
Chief Walton said that he had talked with Cairo Police Chief Keith Sandefur and there were no issues between the two agencies. Chief Walton said that the CPD chief had pledged to continue to assist the school system police with investigations.
Chief Sandefur told The Messenger that $35 per hour is the standard rate for off-duty officers to work security or direct traffic. “That is the standard rate, and it does not go through the city it is paid directly to the officer,” Chief Sandefur said.
The city police chief said his department does not have the manpower to cover football game security and direct traffic without utilizing off-duty officers.
Chief Sandefur also said that the school system police has jurisdiction up to 500 feet from a school campus and their five-member force was sufficient to direct traffic off the campus following a football game. “It moves pretty quickly. Within about 15 minutes it is cleared out,” Chief Sandefur said.
Superintendent Gilliard said he sympathized with the city police chief’s struggle to control overtime costs for the city police force. Having previously served as a city councilman, Dr. Gilliard told board members that the city council was constantly scrutinizing the amount of overtime paid to city police officers.
“My concern is when you have 6,000 to 8,000 people in a concentrated area in the city, wherever they are, it is important to have protection and oversight,” Dr. Gilliard said.
“We need to remind the city police they are here to serve and protect. We want to maintain a good working relationship, but the only way to do that is to communicate,” board member Teresa Gee Hardy said.
Chief Walton noted that between local and visiting law enforcement there were more than 20 officers working the game and other off-duty law enforcement personnel were present and were willing to assist if needed.
Dr. Gilliard told the board he would be sharing his concerns with Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton.
“This was a learning experience for us and we got through it the first time. I appreciate all your hard work,” board member Derrick Majors said to Chief Walton.
“It was stressful,” the chief admitted.
Dr. Gilliard also shared with the board Athletic Director Fallaw’s comments that more planning and preparation had gone into the security and traffic plan for the Bainbridge game than any other game in the last 20 years.