NRA-backed school safety recommendations a mixed bag for school resource officers

CINCINNATI - Local school resource officers said they believe the chief recommendation in Tuesday's National Rifle Association-commissioned proposal to staff armed security at every school is ambitious and highly unlikely.

Although officials said they do believe the deployment of law enforcement officers at every school does provide added security, arming school employees and teachers is not a plan of action worth backing because educators are there to teach, not to provide security. And among the eight recommendations the National School Shield Task Force put forth, many are already in place at the state and local level, officials said.

"That's not likely," said Cincinnati police Sgt. Olivia Greer-Brown, in reference to staffing a school resource officer at each school. "Our school resource officers are stretched to cover a minimum of 11 schools apiece."

 

The report's recommendations include:

Model training programs: School resource officers and school personnel would have to complete a 40- to 60-hour training program to deal with active shooter incidents.

Revisions to state laws: "In order for a selected school staff member to be designated, trained and armed on school property, the states will have to change current legal restrictions," so those in training are able to carry a firearm.

Interagency agreements: Improve the relationship among local law enforcement agencies and school districts to better utilize resources. Greer-Brown said such agreements have already been place, even before the Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut last December. Many school resource officers already operate under memorandums of understanding with school districts.

Online self-assessment tools: Allow school administrators to access a website maintained by the NRA as a resource for campus security and for best practices.

Recommendations for state adequacy policies: A common standard for all public schools to participate in an assessment and development of a security plan. Ohio adopted a similar plan as part of the Ohio School Safety Task Force and the passage of Ohio House Bill 422, requiring all public schools to file floor plans and safety protocols "consistent with the local incident command structure."

More focused federal funding and oversight: "Either through legislation or executive action, a lead agency should be designated to coordinate the federal programs and funding of local school safety efforts, the report states. The Department of Homeland Security should be designated as the lead, supported by the Department of Education and Department of Justice."

Establishing "umbrella" organization to advocate and support school safety: "Because of the limitations of federal, state and local funding for school safety, there is an important role that can be filled by a private non-profit advocacy and education organization. The National School Shield is in a position with adequate funding and support from the NRA to fulfill this important national mission," the report states.

Identifying mental health issues: The purpose is to create a positive school environment that encourages sharing information on early warning signs and reducing incidences of bullying or other anti-social behavior.

Next page: What will local schools consider?

Cincinnati police provides nine school resource officers to cover the 117 schools within city, including all public, charter, private and parochial schools, Greer-Brown said. They are paid out of the police budget.

The only recommendation that peeked interest of Greer-Brown was how to better identify students with mental health issues and to create a positive school culture. Cincinnati police school resource officers identify "students that present positive role models and bring them in the forefront to assist with other students," she said.

But there's only so much law enforcement officers can do, despite the ongoing cooperation with local school districts.

"Some schools don't want to actually see us there unless they want us there," Greer-Brown said. "We are at the will of the [school] administrator. If they have a staff member there to deal with the issue, they deal with it. The school keeps the school resource officer in the loop."

And as for staffing armed personnel at each school, Greer-Brown wasn't opposed to or against the measure. If the day should come where schools are mandated to have armed personnel on campus, she'd prefer it to be a police officer.

"I will feel more comfortable it was a police officer," she said. "I recognize that some schools don't have the resources to have one, and that some schools don't need one."

The report, spearheaded by Asa Hutchinson, a former GOP congressman from Arkansas, recommends refining school collaboration with law enforcement agencies and funding a national program through federal grants. But what grabbed the attention of Kari Parsons, the executive director of the Ohio School Resource Officers Association, was the 40- to 60-hour of active-shooter training for school employees crafted by the "recognized expertise" of the NRA, as the report states.

Parsons cited the already-in-place training protocols set for school resource officers by state school resource officer associations and the National School Resource Officers Association (NASRO) that are tailored to their specific communities.

"Can you just see any group trying to tell the 50 states these are the things we want you to do?" Parsons said. "I can just imagine tomorrow the department of education will be calling, the Ohio School Board Association will be up in arms, unless they're looking at this thinking ‘this isn't going to fly' and not even giving it the time of day."

Parsons said insurance premiums for schools are already high, and adding the risk of arming non-law enforcement personnel with firearms will send premiums skyrocketing. And with school districts already strapped for cash, the likelihood of schools willing to pay more insurance is slim to none.

The NRA report does address the insurance issue briefly, stating " … we recommend that the NSS explore insurance coverage for member schools as a potential (umbrella) program benefit."

The plan drew sharp criticism from the American Federation of Teachers, an organization that represents some 1.5 million educators.

"Today's NRA proposal is a cruel hoax that will fail to keep our children and schools safe," AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement. "It is simply designed to assist gun manufacturers flood the nation and our schools with more guns and large magazine clips, which will simply lead to more violence."

But where the NRA and the National School Shield initiative or a national body can help, Parsons said, would be to provide resources for smaller and rural communities, such as the online self-assessment tools the report recommends.

"I like that idea," Parsons said. "Bigger school districts have the resources to put forth a plan, but we receive calls from smaller and rural schools asking for help, some have no experience at all."

Parsons also praised the idea of more focused federal funding through the Department of Homeland Security.

But how or if the eight recommendations would be implemented – and the cost – was not made clear Tuesday. The NRA did shell out approximately $1 million to pay for the study.

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