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Taking stock of security

Fri., March 8, 2013, midnight

District 81’s school resource officers could be carrying firearms by fall

Spokane Public Schools took a look at the safety and security of its buildings in the wake of December’s mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., and came up with recommendations that include enforcing a policy requiring ID badges and arming school resource officers with guns.

The analysis, conducted over the past two months, looked at current policies and procedures; changes that could be made by fall at a relatively low cost; and longer-term, more costly fixes that could take as long as eight years to put in place.

Putting more armed people in schools has been a topic of national debate.

The resource officers – all of whom are commissioned peace officers – “see the necessity of it,” said Jason Conley, the district’s safety, security and transportation director. They’re trained to handle weapons already, and “I think they see the environment of today is not what it was when they started,” Conley said.

Lower-cost options that could be put in place by this fall include hiring more security staff and giving Spokane police and fire departments access to the district’s security cameras.

Long-term improvements include installing fences around portable classrooms and monitors in every main office to display a live feed of people coming and going.

Putting metal detectors at school entrances and installing buzzer entry systems are options that are still on the table.

“I hate to rule something out … until we’ve thoroughly vetted it,” said Bob Douthitt, school board president.

A buzzer entry system allows someone inside the building to see who is outside and release a lock, Conley said. “That’s the system Sandy Hook had in place. Trouble is that’s not failsafe, as proven,” he said.

Arming teachers is not considered an option.

“I don’t think most teachers went into education because they expected to be carrying a weapon,” Conley said.

Spokane police Lt. Scott Mullennix, who has helped the district as it considered safety upgrades, added, “I don’t think it would be in the best interest of anybody to have teachers armed.”

Plus, Conley said, “It’s not allowed by state law right now, so that’s out.”

District officials created a timeline for implementing recommended upgrades. Effective immediately, all employees and volunteers should wear wear identification in the schools; all visitors will need to check in at school offices; and all schools will need to be current in their fire and crisis drills and staff reviews of crisis plans.

By this fall, the district hopes to employ two additional security officers, an annual expense of $95,100; arm school resource officers; and give Spokane police and fire departments access to the district’s security cameras.

Adding two security officers would put a school resource officer in every middle school and allow for more patrols when school is out, Conley said.

In addition to installing fencing and monitors, the long-term recommendations for a 2015 to 2020 bond include upgrading locks on all classroom doors and improving radio communications with fire and police, among other upgrades.

“I thought we did a very thorough review,” said Superintendent Shelley Redinger. “I appreciate the partnership with police and fire. We look forward to finding ways to implement changes as soon as possible and hearing from the community on any further changes we might need.”

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