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Wednesday, October 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Safe Havens executive director surprised by lack of armed security in Spokane schools

A pair of Spokane Public School resource officers and a Spokane police officer, right, keep an eye on Lewis and Clark High School students as they arrive for class, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in downtown Spokane. A social media threat was made against the school and students prompting extra security. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
A pair of Spokane Public School resource officers and a Spokane police officer, right, keep an eye on Lewis and Clark High School students as they arrive for class, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019, in downtown Spokane. A social media threat was made against the school and students prompting extra security. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The contentious issue of arming campus resource officers in Spokane Public Schools just returned to the front burner, following the recommendation from a national expert to do just that.

Following a seven-monthlong study, Michael Dorn, executive director of nonprofit school safety organization Safe Havens International, urged the district’s board of directors on Wednesday night to “develop a thoughtfully implemented approach to providing some form of preventive coverage by law enforcement personnel.”

Dorn also acknowledged the divide in Spokane over arming resource officers, one that he called deeper than most of the hundreds of school districts assessed by Safe Havens.

“I don’t know that you can make even the majority of people happy,” Dorn said. “But I think most staff and students will be comfortable” with Safe Havens’ suggestions.

Dorn’s comment drew a riposte from Rosie Thurman, attorney for the youth advocacy group Team Child.

“There’s grave concern in the community about guns coming into school,” Thurman said. “Anything that happens in that regard is going to create a lot of concern.”

Thurman also challenged Dorn’s claim of slow response times to school incidents by Spokane police.

“My son was there at (Lewis and Clark High School) during an active shooter incident, and SPD handled it just fine.”

The issue will be revisited next week when Superintendent Shelley Redinger holds a Work Group Campus Resource Office subcommittee meeting and again June 4 at the full group meeting.

“We’ve been really excited to get the report and now we’re looking at the recommendations,” Redinger said Thursday.

The public will have an opportunity to be involved in discussions.

“We’re still working on specifics for the security discussion, but there will be some additional public engagement around the report,” district spokesman Brian Coddington said.

The district, which faces a projected budget deficit of $21.5 million next year, must consider the cost of additional security measures.

“Those will be tied into the budget conversations,” Redinger said.

In the meantime, board members will review the details of Dorn’s report, which praised the district in several areas, mostly for its “generally good” public address systems, integrated buzzer access controls and security camera systems.

Beyond the hardware, Dorn’s team was impressed by the implementation of a Multi-Tiered System of Support – the district’s approach to threat assessment and improved coordination for identification of students who require more support.

The report also praised the district’s coordination with law enforcement and for being “proactive, thoughtful and ethical in its approach at a time when knee-jerk reactions are causing serious harm in many school districts.”

The report outlined some specific ideas for improvements, including better student supervision, better emergency plans and drills, more portable radios and more efficient screening of visitors.

However, throughout his presentation, Dorn revisited his primary message.

“I don’t know of another district your size, let alone with the crime rate your community has and the complexity of the challenges you face, that has no form of armed preventive patrol coverage by law enforcement officers,” Dorn said.

Answering board members’ concerns about the psychological effect on students – especially students of color – Dorn said if the process is done appropriately, “for every student who says they’re afraid of that, many more are afraid of not having that protection.”

At the same time, Dorn said he wasn’t necessarily recommending all resource officers be armed, “or that you need armed officers at all your campuses.”

“We’re not even saying you need them at all your middle schools and high schools,” said Dorn, who pointed out that in the District of Columbia, armed resource officers patrol a zone of schools.

“But we have to clearly state that you have no armed personnel, and we’re not comfortable with that,” Dorn said.

Dorn’s report was the product of seven months of assessments of the district’s safety and security policies, procedures, systems, physical assets, programs, supports and initiatives.

Safe Havens International Inc. has performed assessments at more than 7,800 K-12 sites.

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