Cameron, N.C. — While many North Carolina school districts debate placing armed officers in schools to increase security, Moore County Schools has had its own police force for five years.
The district is among only five school districts statewide with a police department. Chief Sammy McNeill said the move was made solely to gain a better handle on school traffic, but it has since resulted in other benefits.
"Every part of my law enforcement instinct is directed toward the school system," he said. "When I use to be a deputy, if I leave home and I see something going on, you have a responsibility as a sworn deputy to address that. The officers who work for me, they get up in the morning, and their responsibility begins once they arrive on the Moore County Schools property."
Having 11 officers focused on safe schools means better security for the district, he said, noting that training also emphasizes school-related issues.
"Other than the required training that the state puts out for all law enforcement," he said, "all of ours are directed on school stuff – knowing school law, knowing juvenile law, knowing (exceptional children) law."
That focus attracts a certain kind of officer.
"They want to be in the schools. They want to be working with kids. They want to help kids," McNeill said.
School Resource Officer Timmy Bullins now patrols the same halls of Union Pines High School that he used to walk through as a student.
"It was a different time," Bullins said with a laugh.
He said he builds relationships with as many of Union Pines High's 1,200 students as possible.
"When they get off the bus, when they pull into this property, they're mine. I treat them like they're mine," he said. "They depend on us just like they depend on the teacher."
McNeill said the success of the school district police force can be seen in a 27 percent decline in school crime since the department was established.
"Many times, (officers) follow these student from middle school all the way up to high school," he said.