Harlan County Schools police officers sworn in

Published 5:00 pm Wednesday, January 11, 2023

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The Harlan County Public Schools Police Department saw its first six officers sworn in last week, as the new department is set to begin serving the district.

According to information on the Harlan County School’s Facebook page, District Judge Scott Lisenbee performed the swearing-in during a ceremony in the Harlan District Court courtroom.

Those taking the oath of office included Chief of Police Matt Cope, Safe Schools Director and Officer Jim T. Whitaker, and Officers Jayson Howard, Danny Ball, Philip Ely, and Anthony Jenkins.

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“With the passage of HB 63 and amendments to KRS 148.4414, it became evident that we had to move quickly to comply with the provisions of KRS 158.4414, which requires a resource officer on each campus,” Superintendent Brent Roark said. “We already had a contract in place with the Harlan County Sheriff’s Department to provide resource officers for Harlan County High School. We were contracting with sheriff’s deputies on an hourly basis for part-time coverage at all eight of our elementary schools.”

Harlan County Public Schools Chief of Police Matt Cope talked about the new department’s first day in the schools during an interview.

“Everybody was sworn in Dec. 28,” Cope said. “But today (Tuesday, Jan. 3) was the first day school started back, so it’s the first day we have officers out in the schools.”

According to Cope, school police departments are structured similarly to most other police agencies.

“School police departments function very similar to a city police department with the exception with a city, there’s a mayor and city council, and with a school, there’s a school superintendent and a school board,” Cope explained. “The school system appoints a chief of police that manages the police department very similarly to any other (police) agency.”

Cope noted the school police department officers have the same authority as other police officers. The officer’s top priority is to keep the school safe for staff and students alike.

“The SROs that we have in place in the schools are there to ensure the school remains a safe environment in which the education process can take place,” Cope said. “We have more schools than we have officers right now, so we still have some schools contracted with the Sheriff’s Office and some off-duty officers.”

Cope expressed some thoughts on serving with the Harlan County Public Schools Police Department.

“I’m incredibly honored to have the opportunity to serve as chief of police for Harlan County Schools,” Cope said. “I’m extremely appreciative for the support of Superintendent Roark and the member of the Harlan County Board of Education in the development of this police department.”

The officers who make up the Harlan County Public Schools Police Department all have extensive experience in law enforcement, with each one having served with multiple police agencies in and around Harlan County.