Mint Hill police radios don't work inside Rocky River High School, a new school that opened in August 2010.
If School Resource Officer John Hathcock needs to call for assistance, he has three choices.
He can radio the school office on a school walkie-talkie and ask them to call for help. He can move near a window so his cell phone will work, or he can dial out on a land line.
Mint Hill Police Chief Tim Ledford says the situation is unacceptable and is putting Hathcock, and students, in danger.
"We see this as a major officer-safety issue. At a fight a few months ago, the officer had to run to a window and use his cell phone to call for backup," Ledford said. "That cost us a lot of time. Seconds mean a lot in a critical situation, and when you have to leave the situation for any reason, things can get out of hand very quickly."
A bi-directional antenna and an amplifier, or repeater, is needed to allow emergency radios to work inside the thick walls of masonry and steel at the school. Since the school is near the edge of town in a relatively remote area, there is no antenna nearby. Ledford says a repeater would cost $35,000-$50,000. Adding an antenna would cost an additional $50,000-$100,000.
When school plans were being drawn, Ledford and Mint Hill Town Manager Brian Welch say, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools talked about providing and installing the necessary equipment. Welch says he has emails from CMS detailing the equipment location.
When the school was finished, there was a repeater installed for school radios, but not one for the emergency frequency.
CMS Associate Superintendent Guy Chamberlain said that to his knowledge, equipment to communicate with the Police Department was never in the plans.
"We just don't include this type of equipment in the budget. We don't feel it's necessary. In all other schools, the resource officers have learned to adapt. Every officer has a cell phone and a walkie-talkie to the front office. We don't take their concerns cavalierly, but as long as we've been operating with resource officers, they've figured out how to communicate," Chamberlain said.
At a recent Mint Hill budget hearing, Ledford requested funds for an additional officer at the school to assist Hathcock. Ledford said the number of arrests at Rocky River - 56 from the start of school in August through Feb. 7 - warrant additional manpower. If commissioners approve another officer, the salary would come out of Mint Hill's pocket since CMS funds only one officer for each high school.
Bud Cesena, Chief of Police for CMS, said that when Rocky River was in the planning stages, his department thought an antenna and amplifier were in the plans for both Rocky River and Hough high schools; but somewhere along the way, they disappeared.
Still, Cesena says he's confident a solution will be found.
"We work very closely with the Mint Hill department and we have a great relationship with them. If Tim says this is what he needs, then I believe him. This is a decision that has to be made by the Mint Hill Police Department and the school system."
Welch says the situation is far from settled.
"Our previous police chief first brought this to our attention when we had similar problems at Mint Hill Middle School. We told CMS about it then, and they said they would include the equipment as part of the plans for the new high school. Obviously that didn't happen.
"I'm not really sure where we go from here. We'll do whatever we need to do to protect our officer's safety, but am I annoyed? You bet I am," said Welch.