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Concerns over school resource officer proposal

Peter Goodman


Should DASO place officers in Gadsden Schools, and at what cost? County Commissioners MAY face those questions at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

I write “may” because this story keeps changing.

Initially, GISD Superintendent Travis Duffy requested 27 new officers, offering to pay for their salaries, but not benefits or higher insurance premiums.

Additional officers and special training add to DASO’s administrative burden. There are health insurance, perhaps pensions, and many hidden county personnel/administrative costs. Citizens and commissioners should have a ballpark figure for those costs.

It appeared that the county and GISD might be rushing toward a deal in which county taxpayers would provide GISD a benefit without being fully reimbursed. IF we’re to do that, citizens and commissioners should know the details, costs, and risks.

Dempsey says the deal has “evolved:” it concerns 3-5 officers, GISD will pay for their training, and may pay for insurance-premium increases. Dempsey says GISD is “pretty committed to making this work.” County officials who deal with risk aren’t so enthusiastic.

Dempsey says any premium increase would be negligible, given that deputies are already insured when they wear weapons and deal with the public daily. Others say that dealing with children presents more and different problems. Some county officials shudder at the added liability risks. One noted that three high school football players could surprise and overpower an officer and take his gun.

“Special needs” kids, such as those on the autism spectrum, can be easily aggravated and [over]react impulsively, perhaps triggering an officer’s overreaction. “We might be putting kids in harm’s way, rather than protecting them. We need a full discussion on training, and whether or not to have guns in schools,” says State Representative Joanne Ferrary.

The ACLU strongly opposes the idea, noting that “armed officers stationed in schools neither prevented nor stopped ‘active shooters’” in Columbine High and elsewhere. Many large school districts have decided against guns in schools. The ACLU adds, “Places of learning are not security zones or criminal justice institutions, and they should not be staffed that way.”

Our sheriff, County Commissioner Shannon Reynolds, and Ferrary all doubt armed school resources officers are effective. Stewart calls it “false security. People go in with automatic weapons, and one person with a gun is unlikely to stop them.” She adds that schools tend to use them as disciplinary tools, threatening to sic the SRO on kids – like mothers telling their children “Wait ‘til Daddy comes home.”

If the ACLU is wrong, both the Gadsden School Board and the Dona Ana County Commission (and parents/citizens) should be fully comfortable with why they would put armed officers in schools. Then, they should make clear how much helping GISD will cost the county, and be comfortable with the costs and risks.

Others question why the county manager recommends including this in the budget but denying Stewart special officers she requested: e.g., certified drone deputies, without which DASO’s six drones are useless; a deputy in dispatch, because of new technologies; and a CALEA manager, essential to keeping DASO’s CALEA certification. She also needs a public information person.

These issues get mired in bureaucratic rivalries, and I’d hope the commissioners exercise independent judgment.

At my deadline, I suddenly learned that Sheriff Stewart has withdrawn her request. Little she wanted was approved; and the six school officers were approved at deputies’ wages, though they’d not be deputies or certified.

So the commission may face these issues.