School officials: Armed security must be practical

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The idea of armed police providing security in schools -- one strongly advocated in the first public statement Friday by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings -- isn't new to the Cape Girardeau and Jackson school districts.

The districts already have some armed security at their disposal with full-time, fully trained police officers -- three in the Cape Girardeau district and one in Jackson -- employed by the city police departments.

Local administrators say increasing police presence would not hurt, within reason.

Cape Girardeau superintendent Jim Welker said any discussion would have to take into account "what's practical and what we're able to do."

One full-time officer works at the high school, one spreads time among the middle school, junior high and alternative school, and the third is shared by five elementary schools.

Cape Girardeau Police Department spokesman Darin Hickey said the police department, which pays the officers, prides itself on being "progressive" in having a security presence in schools.

Wade Bartels, the Jackson district's chief financial officer and security coordinator, said the district has one school resource officer who visits all schools. Adding more officers, while possible, is far from certain.

"More school resource officers is one of the many things on the table," Bartels said. "We're really looking at anything we can do to make the schools more secure."

Another idea, posed in Missouri, is to allow teachers and administrators with concealed-carry permits to carry guns into schools. Rep. Shelley Keeney, R-Marble Hill, is one of 24 co-sponsors of such legislation.

Keeney said the NRA's proposal is a good one, but with funding issues already a problem, she worries about how to pay for more police presence in schools. That's why the concealed-carry legislation is important, she said.

"Many school districts cannot afford the costs involved with an armed officer, so let's allow school districts the opportunity to consider both options and make the decision they believe best fits the interests of their students and staff," Keeney said in an emailed response to questions from the Southeast Missourian.

Keeney, a former teacher, said responsible teachers who go through necessary training to obtain permits should be allowed to carry weapons to protect themselves and others.

Welker, however, is opposed to anyone but trained police officers carrying guns in Cape Girardeau schools. Bartels said the Jackson district hasn't studied the proposal closely enough to comment at this time.

Missouri law allows school boards to authorize those who have a permit to carry concealed weapons to do so. But Keeney said there is a concern the law isn't clear enough to give schools proper direction.

She also said much debate is expected with the concealed-carry legislation, which is likely to see many amendments before a final vote.

msanders@semissourian.com

388-3652

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