A proposal to arm Spokane Public Schools resource officers has been scrapped.
The Spokane City Council shelved the idea earlier this month following turmoil in the Police Department, miscommunication and questions about liability.
District officials first started exploring the possibility of arming school resource officers after conducting a safety audit following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Starting in the summer of 2014, former police Chief Frank Straub and the district worked out an agreement that would have given the resource officers training from the Police Department, as well as supervision by a fully commissioned police sergeant. The district would have paid for it.
But City Council President Ben Stuckart said he talked to City Administrator Theresa Sanders and interim police Chief Rick Dobrow, and they had heard nothing about the proposal since the council voted to delay action on it in June. Stuckart suggested it was an initiative of Straub’s that was dropped during his final, tumultuous months.
“We tabled it forever. We delayed it for six months thinking that they were going to come back to us because there were a lot of unresolved issues when it was first on our agenda,” Stuckart said. “So, we asked them to work on it for the next six months and we never heard from anybody. As far as I’m concerned, it’s dead in the water.”
Stuckart said he was troubled that school resource officers only needed 24 hours of training under the proposal before being allowed to carry a firearm in schools. He said he was also uncomfortable with the city being solely liable if anything went wrong.
School district officials said they were under the impression the proposal was dead six months ago and decided not to bring it forward again.
“It became apparent that this was not something the City Council was interested in moving on. It began to turn political,” school board President Deana Brower said. “We also had some concerns around our police department.”
From the outset, Stuckart had spoken forcefully against the proposal, but suggested he would be open to allowing police officers to take the place of school resource officers.
“I would never bring something forward that involved guns for somebody other than police officers,” Stuckart said.
District Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson said the post-Sandy Hook safety audit recommended several things, one of which was arming resource officers. Over the past six months, the district has focused on alternate safety measures.
“We’re doing a work-around by developing a closer, quicker response when we do need an armed officer from Spokane police,” Anderson said.
Mark Sterk, the former Spokane County sheriff who is now the school district’s director of safety, security, transportation and risk management, wanted armed resource officers, but said not having them isn’t a major problem.
“The statistics tell us that most of those incidents occur within seconds, so the likelihood of an officer being there when it happens is not that great in the first place,” Sterk said.
As for contracting with the Police Department, Anderson said the district tried that in the mid-2000s and found that officers stationed in schools were often called out on nonschool-related matters.
Additionally, Anderson said the relationships resource officers build with students is a key component of their job.
“They are very good at verbal judo,” he said. “They can talk a kid down instead of take a kid down.”
Currently, the district has 14 resource officers. They are limited-commission officers and can arrest and investigate crimes both on and off school property. The resource officers carry pepper spray and handcuffs, Anderson said.
In an effort to change the perception of what resource officers do, Anderson said, the district will rename resource officers to campus safety officers.
In addition to working closely with the police, the district is in the process of installing secure entry points in its schools. Known as secure single point of entry, these entrances allow staff in the front office to monitor and control entry into schools. Currently, 14 district schools have controlled entry. Another 10 are scheduled to be equipped in 2016.
The district also installed so-called Columbine locks, which allow teachers to lock their classroom doors without stepping into the hall.
Sterk said that with or without guns, the first goal of school security should be prevention.
“We’re very concerned about … how do we prevent an active shooter from being in our schools in the first place,” he said.
Nicholas Deshais and Rachel Alexander contributed to this report.
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