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Wed., Jan. 8, 2014

Editorial: Spokane schools’ armed police officers can wait

Before the school year began, Spokane School District officials predicted 13 resource officers would be armed and on duty when classes resumed following the Christmas break. That did not happen.

The resource officers are there. The guns are not.

Mark the district “tardy,” but don’t mark it down. Introducing guns into schools clearly represents a change in working conditions, and a significant one at that. The district contract with resource officers must be renegotiated, but many of the issues raised are new, and district and labor representatives have nothing in the way of a model that can be cut and pasted onto a new agreement.

Spokane Education Association President Jenny Rose, whose father was a police officer, said she was surprised when the union’s four-person negotiating team started to identify some of the issues a revised contract would have to address.

For example: The resource officers are commissioned by the Spokane Police Department, but some of the district’s schools are outside the city. What kind of jurisdiction issues does that raise in the event an officer uses his or her weapon, and who will investigate?

What if an officer does not want to carry a weapon? How much training should those who choose to carry receive?

And, because they are likely to be the primary target, if an armed intruder does enter a school, what kind of pay increase adequately compensates them for the additional risk they will be taking?

None of these issues is the kind that would come up in typical school negotiations.

Talks should be further along – Rose says there have been only two meetings – but there is no reason to hurry. The student shootings a year ago in Newtown, Conn., were gruesome. There have been other incidents since then, but they remain extremely rare. The district and union should take their time, even if it means delaying implementation to the next school year.

They should also make an exceptional effort to keep the community, especially parents and students, as informed as possible. Labor negotiations can legally be conducted beyond the view of the public and press. With guns and their appropriate use in schools as the central issue in these talks, the greatest possible transparency would be best.

Policies that poison constructive relationships between officers and students would be among the worst outcomes. Students willing to come forward when they see something amiss, or hear a threat, are the best defense against a potential tragedy, as was the case at the Fort Colville Elementary School in Stevens County. Students preparing to murder a classmate were intercepted when another student alerted school officials.

We are confident the district and union will keep student security foremost as the talks continue. With many still questioning why a solution that includes guns is necessary, as open a negotiating process as possible can best provide the answers.

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