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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane schools campus resource officers ask for guns

Some campus resource officers have asked Spokane Public Schools to train and arm them with guns.

However, the proposal won’t go anywhere. At least not until the next scheduled bargaining session in 2019, said Spokane Education Association President Katy Henry.

“We are not going to put in a demand to bargain because we couldn’t do that,” Henry said.

The resource officers made their request to union leadership before the Freeman High School shooting, Henry said.

School employees can only request a bargain in the middle of a contract if legislative action has taken place or if the employees’ working conditions have dramatically changed, said Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood.

In preparation for the 2019 bargaining session, the SEA will hold listening sessions with members to determine what the most pressing issues are, Henry said. At that time the SEA could approach district administration with a request to arm campus resource officers.

“It sounds like there was some interest in the group,” Henry said.

Unlike most school districts in Washington, Spokane Public Schools resource officers are school employees, thus members of the Spokane Education Association. They are limited-commission officers and can arrest and investigate crimes both on and off school property.

It’s not the first time the district has considered arming its campus resource officers. In 2015 the district was poised to arm officers. However, that proposal was scrapped amid opposition from city leaders, upheaval in the Spokane Police Department and miscommunication.

District officials first considered arming school resource officers after conducting a safety audit following the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The audit recommended the district arm its officers.

Since then Superintendent Shelly Redinger said the district’s aims have shifted.

“As a district we are focusing on the officers building relationships with the students,” she said. “I understand the Freeman incident brings it to the forefront. It’s a natural reaction.”

Redinger said the district will continue to focus on training, relationship building and early threat assessment, complemented by infrastructure security such as single point of entry and video cameras. Currently the district has 15 campus resource officers at schools during the day and four campus response specialists who work nights and weekends.

The focus on relationship building and restorative justice practices is credited with reduced district arrests by 85 percent between 2015-16 and 2016-17.

There are 1,618 cameras districtwide and secure entry points in all but two schools. Since 2003, Spokane Public Schools has earmarked $14.5 million in bond money for school security.

Redinger points out that Spokane Public Schools, the second-largest district in the state, is unique in how urban and compact it is. That means, she said, police can arrive at schools much faster than in other districts.

“The Spokane Police Department can get to our schools very, very quickly,” she said.

Mark Sterk, the district’s director of security and transportation, echoed Redinger.

“I know that the district, when I talk with Dr. Redinger and Dr. Anderson about this, our focus is not there at this point,” he said of arming resource officers. “Our focus is on de-escalation strategies. Doing the things we have been doing so far. Building relationships with kids is our emphasis.”

Logistically, the majority of Spokane Public Schools’ resource officers could be armed quickly because they have law enforcement backgrounds, said Sterk, the former Spokane County sheriff. For the few who have no law enforcement background, arming them would require more training.

The question of whether to arm school resource officers is a complicated one, Sterk said. However, he points out that any effort to arm campus resource officers would need City Council and mayoral approval. City Council President Ben Stuckart was against the earlier proposal.

“I think you’re never going to get this done without the approval of City Council and the mayor because there is so much liability attached to it,” Sterk said.

According to a 2012 New York Times article, about one-third of all schools in the United States have armed security guards. Other school districts in the Spokane area have armed sheriff’s deputies who are on special assignment to the districts.

Freeman High School had a Spokane County Sheriff’s deputy on campus the day of a deadly shooting there three weeks ago. Deputy Ron Nye was the first law enforcement officer on scene. However, by the time he approached the suspected shooter, he had already surrendered to a school janitor.

Wood, the Washington Education Association spokesman, said Spokane is the only district where security officers are represented by a teachers association.