Armed guards at school a complicated issue for local officials
January 8, 2013
The Windsor police chief and school district superintendent said the school safety issue is quite complicated.
Police chief John Michaels and Windsor-Severance Re-4 School District superintendent Karen Trusler agree that the community should be aware and educated about the school surroundings.
Trusler plans to hold a community forum with the school board on school safety at the end of the month.
"It's a societal problem," Michaels said. "The kind of society we're in anymore, everybody just needs to be as diligent as possible, and we will try to do whatever we can to keep our children and our schools safe."
Michaels didn't want to get into specifics on the subject of the National Rifle Association's call to arm schools, or NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre's comments that putting more guns in society would provide better security and that armed guards should be employed in every school.
"I'm not going into that because there's no single, simplistic answer," Michaels said. "It's something that has to be addressed in total by society whether it's an issue with mental health, issue with weapons, issue with security, issue with building design, and on and on and on. It is very complex, and no single one line answer or suggestion is going to be the solution to these random acts of incredible violence. It's probably one of the most difficult things to ever prepare against. It's a multi-layered problem."
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Trusler said she has more questions than answers regarding the issue of armed guards at every school.
"My questions would entail what are the results of having armed guards in stopping or deterring the shootings, and I'd like to know what are the results of facilities that use metal detectors?" asked Trusler. "Will Colorado legislators be looking at some type of legislation that's going to help support increased security? These recent shootings, we are all feeling vulnerable for our children. There's only so much money that legislators allocate, so that's something we need to look at."
As far as teachers being armed, Michaels said: "Everybody's going to look at what they feel they can accomplish in their school, and what is the best overall solution. Does every school need to be like Guantanamo Bay? Do we have the money to do that?"
Michaels said school violence has been going on for the past century, and he brought up the Bath School disaster in Michigan where 38 elementary school children and six adults were killed by a dynamite explosion in the deadliest mass murder at a school in this country.
"Regretfully, it's not new to our society," Michaels said. "The Bath School in 1927 when the school board member blew up the school and killed about 40 people? Half his dynamite didn't go off, or he would have blown up the whole school. He killed a lot of kids all at once, and very few people know about that."
The Re-4 School District has a school liaison police officer from the police department, paid for by the town of Windsor, who patrols the schools throughout the district depending on the need or the request. The high school has a campus monitor.
"With the high school being across the street (from the police department), I know that there's visibility and that the police are there whenever we call, and the closeness also helps," Trusler said. "We're looking at some type of partnership in order to increase the presence there. Our schools from Tozer to the high school access is different at each building, so it's going to look different at each building."
Ed Clark, University Schools safety and security director in Greeley, doesn't agree with everything the NRA says.
"I don't agree with everything LaPierre said, but I do believe the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," Clark said. "I haven't thought it through completely, but I don't agree with putting a weapon in the hands of someone around kids just to have armed security."
Clark said a lot of thought has to go into who is holding a gun around children, and he does not believe it is just as simple as training someone who is willing. He said he's not even comfortable with most armed security guards because most are at the beginning of their careers and don't have the experience needed to carry a gun around children.
"If you're going to put armed guards in schools, you have to make sure they can make good-quality decisions and have high-quality training," Clark said.
John Gates, director of safety and security for Greeley-Evans School District 6, agreed, adding that level of training is something equal to a police officer. Gates is also a retired Greeley police officer, serving 25 years with the department.
All Greeley high schools have a full-time school resource officer, which is an on-duty, uniformed and armed Greeley police officer. The city pays for the officers. In addition, two more float between the middle schools. Gates said the district also employs plain-clothed, unarmed security guards.
Gates and Clark said training someone to shoot a gun is one thing, but making good decisions on when to pull a gun with hundreds of children around becomes more complicated.
Weld County Sheriff John Cooke and Greeley police chief Jerry Garner both believe that many people, including teachers, would be able to handle the responsibility given the right weapons training.
"If a teacher or principal wants to be armed, send them through training and let them," Cooke said. "How much training depends on the individual. There are some teachers out there who have never handled a gun, but there are a lot who have. You'd be surprised how many have concealed weapons permits already. I don't want to make it mandatory, but if a teacher says, 'I want to carry (a gun) to protect my class,' they should be able to."
Garner said schools are vulnerable because bad guys know they will be met with little resistance.
Tribune reporter Sherrie Peif contributed to this story.