Arming of Spokane school officers stalls

TUESDAY, JAN. 7, 2014

Spokane Public Schools’ resource officers won’t be carrying guns at schools any time soon.

The earliest that weapons will be carried by officers is this spring – or probably later – despite a January goal. A new contract between the school district and its resource officers needs to be in place first. So far, there’s no proposal from the district and “we’ve only met twice,” said Jenny Rose, Spokane Education Association teachers union president.

An agreement has to be reached before anything can move forward.

“This is a situation where we want to do it right,” Superintendent Shelley Redinger said. “We want to make sure we are very thoughtful.”

Arming school resource officers is one of many safety measures the district approved in the wake of December 2012’s elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn. Administrators unveiled the plan in early 2013 and confirmed the rollout in August.

“We’ve moved slowly. There’s a process and a system,” said Jason Conley, district director of safety, security and transportation. “I would hope some are armed before the end of the school year.”

Holidays and key negotiators on medical leave have played into the setback. Nevertheless, there’s been progress, officials say.

Additionally, the district’s plan is unlike any other in Washington, forcing administrators and union leaders to write a new security script.

Auburn School District is the closest comparison to what Spokane’s seeking to do. The district has two full-time armed school employees. One patrols the north side while the other watches the south area. Neither is stationed in a school. The high schools each have unarmed security officers.

“We like our model,” said Tim Cummings, Auburn School District associate superintendent of human resources. “No one has ever brandished their weapons at a student.”

Spokane’s plan is to arm 14 officers, including those stationed at the district’s middle and high schools.

The union’s president still has several questions: How much more salary should the officers receive for riskier work? How much training will they receive? Does everyone want to be armed? Who investigates when a school resource officer is involved in a shooting?

“With a gun, it adds a whole new element to it,” Rose said.

Once a contract is in place, the officers will need to be trained, which will take three to five days per person, district officials said.

“In my mind, the sense of urgency hasn’t changed one bit,” Conley said. “The whole point is to protect our staff, our students, our visitors, our volunteers from an element we know to be out there.”

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