May 29, 2014 in City

Talks over arming Spokane school officers on hold

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Spokane Public Schools resource officers are seen at Ferris High School in 2011.
(Full-size photo)

Officers won’t be armed in Spokane schools – at least not for now.

Arming Spokane Public Schools’ resource officers appeared to be a dead conversation between union negotiators and district officials when the two groups walked away from the bargaining table last week.

“We couldn’t agree on a monetary amount for our members having the responsibilities of carrying a firearm. I think our officers are worth more than $3,500 per year,” said Jenny Rose, union president for Spokane Public Schools’ employees. “It’s a priority issue. If they really want our officers to be armed, they need to pay them.”

The union earlier turned down the district’s proposal of increasing the officers’ pay by $3,500 a year.

District officials deny negotiations have stopped and, to the union’s surprise, sent a text Wednesday to a union leader increasing their offer.

“The perception from the management team is that we are still looking for a positive solution to keep students safe. We want to find a way to protect our kids, and arming our own officers who know our students is what we believe is the best option,” said Kevin Morrison, district spokesman. He said he didn’t know why Rose’s “perception is that they are no longer in negotiations.”

The decision to arm school resource officers came a few months after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre at an elementary school in December 2012. Since then, the administration has been negotiating and working with local police to make it a reality.

The district’s 14 resource officers are stationed at each high school and middle school. Some patrol multiple schools.

Arming the officers is one of many safety measures the district approved following the tragic shooting. The district also has added internal door locks, hundreds of cameras and a few buzzer-only entry points with monitors.

The resource officers already are trained peace officers and train with local law enforcement, so they were only planning to add weapons training. In March, district officials announced that resource officers would need to become Spokane Police Department reserve officers to carry guns in the schools per Washington law.

At that time, the district and union had met just three times. Rose has long argued that resource officers’ contracts need to change because their work conditions would change if they carry guns.

A resource officer’s job is more dangerous if they carry a gun, so they need higher pay, Rose said. On May 21, when the negotiating team and district officials ended the meeting, “they said we will look at other alternatives,” Rose said.

No bargaining dates are scheduled at this point, she said.

“They have not asked to reopen,” Rose said. “We don’t even have a team anymore.”


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