NM schools debate armed officers policy www.privateofficer.com
Los Lunas NM Jan 30 2011 Guns on school campuses? That’s what Desi Garcia, Los Lunas Schools director of safety and security, proposed at the school board meeting Tuesday, and the school board is asking for public input.
In the first reading of the policy to allow School Resource Officers to carry guns on school campuses, Garcia asked the school board to “exercise its power to delegate to the superintendent the ability to allow certified law enforcement SROs to carry firearms.
“We are not introducing guns to our campus,” Garcia said.”They are already there. We’re just trying to provide the tools necessary for SRO’s to protect our students.”
In light of the recent shooting in Tucson, and the legacy of Columbine High School, school security and law enforcement officials believe armed officers are needed on school campuses.
“It’s about that time,” said Garcia, a retired Albuquerque police officer. “Monday morning I picked up the Albuquerque Journal and I saw that a gunman shot and killed a female at a Walmart store. This is in Monday’s paper.”
Another incident reported that a jealous man killed his best friend in front of his wife’s or girlfriend’s daughter.
“Everybody knows what Jared Loughner did when he shot 25 people,” Garcia said. “Killed six, wounded 19. Clay Alan Duke walked into a school board meeting and attempted to kill members of the school board, the superintendent of the schools, for firing an employee in the Florida school district. Fortunately, there was a police officer present and he did what he is trained to do, go after the bad guy.”
Last week at Gardena High School in California, a young man took his backpack to school, in which he had a gun. When he dropped his backpack, the gun discharged injuring two of his classmates.
“We’ve done some research over the last part of the school year, starting in September,” Garcia said. “A 15-year-old female student was shot and killed at a bus stop on her way to school. A 17-year-old boy was stabbed in Coral Gables, Florida.”
Garcia said you can’t identify who could become violent at school.
“Truly it could be anyone,” he said. “This week alone, we’ve had three calls, two from the high school, one from Valencia, about kids who have threatened to shoot up the school.”
“With the increased violence that we’re seeing in the schools throughout the country, I think we’d all be naive to believe that we’d never have an incident occur in one of our schools here in our own community,” said Valencia County Sheriff Louis Burkhard. “I hope and pray that it doesn’t, but I’m not one to rely on luck. I think that we have to prepare. We have to train, and we have to be ready in the event that we do have such an incident occur.
“I do strongly support school resource officers being armed. I think them not being armed places them, our students and the staff in great jeopardy.”
The possibility that a student might be able to get their hands on an SRO’s firearm during a scuffle was one of the worries of Los Lunas Board of Education President Maria Marez.
Sgt. Robert Ferrarri, of the Los Lunas police SWAT team, who does the arms qualifications for SROs, demonstrated to the board all the latches and locks on the holsters that secure the guns.
“I train my people to ensure that they are capable of neutralizing a situation,” said Ferrarri. “The holsters that we issue here to our officers are what we call ‘double two plus holsters.’”
Once the firearm is locked into the holster, it cannot be removed.
“You have certain steps you have to take to get the pistol out of your holster,” Ferrarri said. “If I try to pull this weapon up and out (he tugs on the gun in his holster), it’s not going to happen.”
He assured Marez that the SROs will do what they have to do to keep students safe and nobody else gets hurt.
Chris Martinez, vice president of the board, asked about response time from other law enforcement agencies if a shooter were to get onto the campus at of one of the schools.
“All my police officers have access to the dispatch system, so they can switch channels on their frequencies and contact dispatch in the event that such an event should occur,” Garcia said. “That has all been arranged. As we’ve grown we’ve developed relationships with all (county and state) entities.”
All the law enforcement agencies in the county work together and assist one another, he said.
There are four lessons learned from the Columbine shootings, Garcia said. Number one: That there isn’t a distinct psychological profile of a school killer. Another is the need to better prepare students and teachers for an emergency.
The method of handling such incidents has also changed.
In the old law enforcement approach, Garcia said, cops surround the building, set up a perimeter and contain the damage.
That approach has now been replaced by the “active shooter protocol.”
“Optimally, it calls for a four-person team to advance in a diamond-shaped wedge,” Garcia said. “They’re trained to move toward the sound of gunfire and neutralize the shooter. Their goal is to stop him at all costs.”
This approach has been proven successful at numerous shootings during the last 10 years. At Virginia Tech alone, it probably saved dozens of lives, Garcia said.
The SROs are police officers and not security officers, They are state certified by the Department of Public Safety, and have all attended a police academy. They are all up to date on state law enforcement requirements. They are commissioned by Los Lunas Police Department and the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office.
They have the powers of arrest, and to submit cases for prosecution to the Juvenile Probation and Parole Office and the District Attorneys Office.
Until Los Lunas Schools can provide firearms, the officers will use the guns they kept from their law enforcement careers.
“It’s one more tool to keep our kids safe,” said Marez. “We’d be silly not to be proactive in this area. Mr. Garcia put it well, APS set the tone for this. APS is the largest district in New Mexico, and we’re one of 10 in size. So, we’re right behind APS.”
Marez said she’d like to hear from the community on the issue.