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Editorial: SPS should stick with idea to arm officers

Spokane Public Schools and the bargaining unit representing its 14 resource officers should restart talks that will set compensation for carrying firearms.

The discussions apparently – the two sides disagree even on this – ended with a district offer of $3,500 in additional pay each year for the added risk and responsibility of wearing a weapon. That represents a pay increase for the most senior school resource officers of about 6 percent.

Total cost to the district: about $50,000, not including training-related expenses, and possibly some other associated costs.

In a general fund budget of more than $325 million, the money dedicated to this extra piece of compensation is small. There should be room for more negotiation here.

Which is not to fault the district for moving forward slowly. This is new territory for district and officers alike. And the risks, despite horrendous events like the December 2012 school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, are small.

Between that incident and February of this year, about 28 children in grades kindergarten through high school were shooting victims. That’s about the number of students who will die in an incident involving a school bus over the same period.

The Newtown deaths – 26 students and teachers – and previous mass killings distorted public perceptions of the real risk, which the recent Isla Vista, California, shootings reinforced.

But no district wants to have to explain why officers supposedly on campus to protect students were unable to do so when another nightmare walks in with a weapon. Spokane Public Schools has taken the responsible position that if weapons are necessary for the protection of students, they should be in the hands of individuals who have been trained not just in how to use them, but in reading a situation to know if they need to be used.

Someone walking the halls in district middle and high schools every day, and constantly meeting students, will have better antennae than a police officer or deputy entering a school for the first time, although the Spokane Police Department has been a valuable partner and, in fact, the school officers will become volunteer reserve officers with the department.

The best defense is a school environment that encourages student communication with officers and teachers regarding concerns about the behavior of other students, and it would be unfortunate if the addition of a gun to an officer’s equipment shut down that kind of interaction. When, not if, negotiations resume, that sensitivity must be kept in mind.

The district is making a lot of exciting progress. It would be unfortunate if a stalemate regarding guns obscured all the positives. The district and security employees should re-engage, so the district, parents and students can focus on the ongoing reforms.


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