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SPD will train school officers

Armed resource officers part of security upgrade

More cameras, better locks and tighter security are becoming a reality at Spokane Public Schools.

Having armed officers in the hall is still several months away.

Firearms training for Spokane Public Schools’ resource officers is not enough; those district employees need to become Spokane Police Department reserve officers, too.

And so resource officers will get training in case law, patrol procedures, crisis intervention and firearms, said Spokane Police Department Lt. Matt Cowles, who oversees police reserves.

“The new plan will give them more opportunities and provide better service for our kids,” he said.

The school district and police department have drafted a three-year agreement and hope to finalize it in June.

Arming school resource officers – a decision that district elected officials approved early last year – is one of several security upgrades in the works during the next several months. Administrators will update the school board on the next steps and implementation at their regular meeting tonight.

The district employs 14 commissioned school resource officers who are certified and trained by the Spokane Police Department.

Police officials want them to take polygraph tests and psychological exams before they can carry guns, the same vetting process used to hire police officers. State law now allows school security personnel to carry guns without passing a polygraph test or a psychological exam.

If the employees become commissioned reserve officers, that solves the issue.

“School Reserve Officers are employed by SPD as volunteer Spokane Police Officers for the limited purpose defined by the agreement,” according to a draft of the agreement between the school district and the police department. “Specifically, they utilize their Reserve Officer status and are called into active police service by SPD to serve the law enforcement needs of the Spokane Public Schools.”

Other than the ability to carry a gun, the school officers will also have access to more criminal background information of people they arrest or confront and they’ll have the authority to issue traffic tickets in areas around schools.

Resource officers are a better fit for schools than stationing police officers there, said Mark Anderson, Spokane Public Schools’ associate superintendent. “Our officers are really good with kids. They understand the environment,” he said. “The advantage of our officers being armed is to protect us from outside dangers.”

Besides coming to an agreement with the police department, the school district needs to finish negotiating with the union regarding school resource officers, said Jenny Rose, the district employees’ union president.

“We’ve had three meetings. They’ve given us a proposal, and we have not even countered,” Rose said. “We are trying to respect the bargaining process and not play it out in front of the public.”

Any current resource officers who don’t want to be armed or become a police reserve officer will be able to opt out, said Jason Conley, the district’s director of safety, security and transportation.

So far, the district hasn’t heard from any who don’t want to be armed, Anderson said. “Our hunch is most will.”