Spokane Public Schools and the city of Spokane should keep talking – or resume talking – about arming school resource officers.
The most recent review of the options died, from lack of communication or care, or both. The departure of former Chief Frank Straub, and charges against officers stemming from disgraceful behavior at a party, have provided convenient cover for the school board and administration understandably not eager to address an issue so politically loaded.
The city does not want the liability of placing its officers on school premises. And there are several police-related problems with higher priorities, among them hiring a new chief and ongoing progress toward meeting recommendations of the U.S. Department of Justice on the use of force.
Meanwhile, the school district has been installing better school entry systems, alarms, and better locks on classroom doors. These are important measures every district parent and patron should encourage.
But as we have learned with sickening repetitiveness, schools are easy targets for the demented, or for those with sinister agendas. We seldom know who those individuals might be before they strike.
And passive security systems can be breached. Then what?
The resource officers, who are commissioned by the city, carry pepper spray and handcuffs, equipment that should be sufficient for handling an in-school incident involving a student, or students, provided one has not smuggled a weapon into the building.
If someone, student or intruder, has a gun, the danger escalates. The resource officers have the training and the relationships with students that may allow them to defuse the situation without violence. Nobody wants a student harmed unless they are an immediate danger to others or themselves.
Use pepper spray, and the gun might be discharged unintentionally. The alternatives are Tasers, which can briefly incapacitate, and handguns, which can kill, and should never be used against a student unless they are firing a weapon.
If there are multiple intruders, Tasers would be useless.
But do the resource officers, to be renamed safety officers, want to carry either Taser or handgun? Perhaps they can be locked away for quick access. Certainly, they should have ongoing training and certification.
The City Council, according to President Ben Stuckart, has tabled “forever” the city providing armed officers. That leaves the issue in the hands of the school board, which has plenty on its plate already.
A safety audit following the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings recommended officers be armed, a finding supported by Mark Sterk, former Spokane County sheriff and now head of security for the district.
The ugly truth is that schools are vulnerable. Last May, the district and city were near agreement on an enhanced police presence on campuses. Then, nothing.
When a new police chief is aboard, and two new members of the school district get their feet under them, school security should be revisited.
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