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active shooter training file

Among other activities in the schools, the Missoula County Sheriff's Office conducts active shooter training as shown in this 2018 file photo.

The Missoula County Sheriff's Office's school resource officer should return to duty at county schools sometime this fall, barring any unforeseen challenges, Sheriff T.J. McDermott said Thursday.

McDermott laid out the timeline Thursday in a meeting with the Missoula County commissioners. The SRO position became vacant in September after the deputy reportedly left a duty weapon in a faculty bathroom at an unidentified school. 

In October, McDermott said he had expected to fill the SRO position, the county's only such slot, by Jan. 1. 

But McDermott said Thursday that, despite having a deputy ready to move into the SRO position, staffing issues have kept the patrol division from being able to spare any deputies for the schools.

"With the staffing issues we haven't been able to do that, but we are going to commit one deputy to those schools," he told commissioners. "One of the best things we've accomplished in the last year was creating that SRO position."

Indeed, the SRO position had been vacant for more than a decade, and re-establishing the on-site deputy had been a stumping point in McDermott's successful re-election bid last fall. 

The sheriff said this year's budget talks may include a request for another full-time deputy, to pay for the SRO position, which would assist in different areas when school is out for the summer. As it is, with so many schools in such an expansive county, the SRO typically serves more as a liaison to schools with training and visibility than a daily presence, Captain Rob Taylor told the commission.

"Patrol is the priority," he said. "That's what people call for."

It's also possible the SRO position won't be filled until Jan. 1, 2020. To avoid that, the sheriff's office is looking at hiring deputies who are already certified law enforcement officials and may take less time to train. 

Another route is asking schools to chip in funding the SRO position. McDermott said Frenchtown school has offered to fund part of the position, gradually increasing their stake in the funding over three years.

Commissioner Dave Strohmaier suggested reaching out to other schools for possible funding contributions. That conversation quickly skidded to a halt with the question of what school funding might look like after the state legislative session wraps up.

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