Idea for armed officers in schools may have merit, police chief says
The heads of Mesa County’s largest law enforcement agencies on Friday welcomed a call by the National Rifle Association for an increased armed presence in schools, while a representative of School District 51 had a lukewarm reception.
The idea of additional armed police officers or security in local schools “may have some merit,” Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper said.
“As always the key questions are, ‘Does our community really want that, how do we pay for it, and what level of security is our community willing to fund?’ ” Camper said, listing a host of considerations.
“Would they work for the school district or city?” he asked. “Would they be security guards, or would they be POST (Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training) certified and have arrest powers?”
NRA Chief Executive Officer Wayne LaPierre on Friday called on Congress to immediately appropriate funds for an armed police officer in every school, while pledging the organization would develop a school emergency response program that would include volunteers from the group’s 4.3 million members.
“That’s a large organization coming up with a blanket solution and we respect that,” District 51 spokeswoman Christy McGee said. “We’re open to ideas, but we want to find a solution that’s best for our community locally.”
Between 19 public and three private schools, Grand Junction police currently have two school resource officers with a primary focus on Grand Junction High School, while one of the officers works with other schools as needed. A third officer will join the school beat in January.
LaPierre, whose organization had remained silent since the Connecticut shootings which claimed the lives of 26 children and staff, addressed media on the same day The Associated Press reported a CNN/ORC poll taken this week found 52 percent of Americans favor major restrictions on guns or making all guns illegal. Forty-six percent of people questioned said government and society can take action to prevent future gun violence, up 13 percentage points from two years ago in the wake of the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six and wounded then Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
The push to ban worries Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey.
“It might reduce some type of violence, I don’t know,” he said. “But people are still going to have access to weapons.”
Hilkey said he would support arming some teachers or staff in schools under a “tightly controlled program.”
“If you did it under the right protocols, it makes sense to me,” the sheriff said, adding some local teachers have privately expressed a desire to conceal-carry firearms in the classroom.
“I think it could be done in a professional way that sort of shakes hands with local law enforcement,” he said.
Hilkey’s agency has one deputy primarily assigned to Central High School among 15 schools in the county’s jurisdiction.
State Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, plans to introduce a similar idea when the Colorado Legislature convenes next month, but not one that goes as far as the NRA proposal. King’s idea is to put a school resource officer in every school in the state that wants one. His bill, still in the drafting stage, would provide some state aid for that officer, but the bulk of the money would have to come from the school district and the local community.
“If I’d have my way, we’d have a school resource officer in every school in the state,” King said.
Staff writer Charles Ashby and The Associated Press contributed to this report.