Spokane Public Schools could have its own armed police force starting in January.
Thirteen district employees, already commissioned peace officers, are expected to start wearing .40-caliber Glock pistols at their sides.
Arming school resource officers is one of many safety measures the district approved in the wake of December’s mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. The district is also planning to add internal door locks, hire one more commissioned peace officer and add more patrols around schools.
Newtown triggered the recent changes, “but there have been other reasons for considering arming our resource officers,” said Jason Conley, the district’s safety, security and transportation director. “It’s those outside threats that are driving us to this next level of safety. In a criminal’s mind, a school resource officer would be the first target to eliminate to get into the school.”
Each high school and middle school would have an armed officer, according to the current plan.
If the school board approves the schedule today, the plan to arm the school resource officers would unfold over the next few months.
The district’s officers will participate in weapons training at the Spokane Police Academy, which Chief Frank Straub says he welcomes. The district’s officers already train with local law enforcement on a regular basis, he said. The difference is now the training will also include firearms.
Straub has been supportive of the district’s decision to arm the school resource officers, most of whom are former law enforcement agents.
“I support them being armed, if that’s the wishes of the superintendent (Shelley Redinger) and the school board,” he said.
Spokane Public Schools joins only one or two other districts statewide in arming its employees, said Mark Howard, supervisor of security services. Most school districts with armed officers partner with a local police department or sheriff’s office. In those cases, however, keeping the officers is contingent on the police department’s budget.
“Also, if there was a major police incident, we’d be left vulnerable,” Redinger said. “When they are our employees, we are their first priority.”
The district also will have to work with the Spokane Education Association – the teachers union – to change the resource officers’ contracts because their work conditions are changing, said Jenny Rose, union president. Some may feel comfortable with it, and others may think it’s much different than the job they signed up for.
The goal of arming the school resource officers, district officials say, “is to assist in better protecting the safety of students and staff … and provide a greater level of safety for the District’s School Resource Officers.”