Protecting Our Kids

School districts across country embrace call to hire armed guards

January 14, 2013

School districts in Pennsylvania, Alabama, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have hired armed officers in the weeks since the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., the Free Beacon has found.

Additionally, schools in Florida, Tennessee, Arizona, and New York are in the process of hiring armed officers or recommending they be placed in schools.

Vice President Joe Biden will present his recommendations on school safety to President Barack Obama on Tuesday. Reports indicate that the Obama administration will seek to tighten gun control laws.

"Although school shootings are very rare, they are unpredictable and they always occur in communities where people say it would never happen here," said Arab City School District superintendent John Mullins. His district in Alabama hired three additional armed school resource officers recently, placing armed officers in each of the district’s four schools.

"When it comes to the safety and well-being of our children, there is no price too high," he said. The district allocated $66,000 of its $20 million budget for armed officers because they "seem to be a powerful deterrent from being victimized by an irrational violent person."

The officers hired for the Arab City schools are part of the town’s police department and work on their days off for $15 per hour.

"I think our parents are appreciative of our efforts, especially the parents of our youngest school that teaches pre-kindergarten through second grade," Mullins said. "We have received nothing but positive responses not only from parents but also from our teachers."

Armed officers were also hired in the city of Vestavia, Ala., and funding for armed officers in all schools in Alabama is now under consideration. The state’s superintendent and legislators met on Jan. 9 to discuss the possibility of funding for officers for all schools in the state, Mullins said.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia of the Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida is sending safety recommendations to its Board of Education this week that include the hiring an additional 130 officers so all schools will have armed and trained personnel.

"Let me tell you that I wish this wasn’t necessary. I wish we didn’t have to consider any of these strategies but the world has changed since I was in school. It changed again on December 14th," said Elia in a release. She said she will lobby aggressively for school security funding and has been in contact with U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan as well as Florida representatives.

"Here in Hillsborough County, we don’t believe it’s all someone else’s responsibility. We have a role and a responsibility. We’re not going to wait around hoping our students and staff are safe," Elia said.

Gary Rudick, the chief of police for the Tulsa Public School District, wrote in an email to the Free Beacon that armed officers in schools are a deterrent against crime and armed intruders. The district formed and funded its own police department in 2008 and the results have been positive.

"Armed offices are a visible deterrent. There has never been a school shooting in the United States where there was an armed, in uniform, sworn police officer on duty," Rudick said, adding that there are other benefits to having police on grounds.

"Within the five-year period, we have seen arrests decrease as we continue to develop relationships with students in schools. We have recovered an average of four to six firearms from students each year, most always based on the relationships developed with students who come to the officers and give information on the presence of the gun," Rudick said.

Not all the Tulsa schools have an officer stationed full time because of budget constraints. But Rudick said there are police "rovers" who go from one site to another.

A school in New Castle, Penn., now has six more armed officers since its board approved their hiring on Dec. 20. Additional safety measures include appointments being necessary for all visitors to the schools, according to a letter from the superintendent.

The Marlboro, N.J., district’s public information officer Sharon Witchel said officers hired to patrol all the schools in their township since early January are active members of the Marlboro Police Department.

"It is a temporary 90-day measure as we evaluate our safety and security measures," Witchel said. The district plans to collect input and data, evaluate all safety measures, and then make recommendations to its board before the 90-day police contract expires.

Another school district in New Jersey, Totowa School District, also hired armed officers. The superintendent of the Fort Lee Public Schools in New Jersey is reportedly requesting armed officers in all schools there.

Schools in Williamson County, Tenn., and Staten Island, N.Y., appear poised to hire armed officers. Discussions and recommendations as well as funding options have taken place, according to media reports.

"If our actions result in saving only one life, they're worth taking," Biden said at a meeting of victims and gun control proponents at the White House last week.

At least one life was saved in 2010 when an armed officer in a high school protected the principal and students from a gunman. That incident was reported in the local media but did not garner national media attention.

When Thomas Cowan arrived at Sullivan Central High School in Blountsville, Tenn., he pointed his gun at the principal’s face. An armed officer stationed at the school shielded the principal’s body with her own and lured the gunman into an isolated area of the school. A school surveillance video posted on YouTube shows the armed officer, Carolyn Gudger, in a standoff with the gunman at minute 6:32 and beyond.

"There is not a doubt in my mind that Officer Gudger saved lives that day, as did the responding officers who backed her up," Sullivan County sheriff Wayne Anderson wrote in an email to the Free Beacon.

"What we know is that Thomas Cowan pulled a gun and pointed it at the principal’s face. People typically don’t do something like that unless their intent is to inflict harm. The important thing is he was stopped before he got the opportunity to harm students and staff," Anderson said.

The shooter may have been intent on pulling the fire alarm, possibly to get children into the hallways and into his path. "We can only speculate about that and I think everyone will speculate why he wanted to pull a fire alarm. We feel it may have been to get the students out of class but we really just will never know sure," said Anderson.

"I feel we need an armed police officer in every school. They not only serve as a deterrent but, in the event an incident does occur, they don’t have to respond to the school because they are already there. That saves precious time," Anderson said.

The sheriff said patrol officers started to stop by schools several times a day since the Newtown shooting. "Security in our schools should be a top priority and my hope is that soon we will have a school resource officer in every single one of our schools in Sullivan County."

Another shooter in a high school in 1997 in Pearl, Miss., was stopped in the midst of a shooting spree when the vice principal ran out to his car, loaded his gun, and held the gunman at bay until police arrived, according to local media reports. The student reportedly wanted to head to another nearby school and kill additional students. He first killed his mother then arrived at Pearl High School and killed two students. No mention of the vice principal’s actions appeared in stories on the shooting published at the time on CNN and in the New York Times.

Obama’s own Justice Department has recommended putting armed guards in schools. The DoJ’s Center for Problem-Oriented Policing issued a report in 2010 that concluded there are possible benefits from having armed officers in schools. "Research suggests that although SRO [security resource officer] programs do not significantly impact youth criminality, the presence of an officer nonetheless can enhance school safety," the report stated.

The DoJ’s report pointed to two programs in the United Kingdom and Canada. "At least two programs have evaluated specific safety outcomes and found improvements due to the presence of police in schools. These are the Safer Schools Partnership (SSP) in the United Kingdom and the Toronto Police-School Districts School Resource Officer program. These programs hold lessons for school safety efforts in the United States," the report stated.

Most Americans and a majority of parents with school age children believe a police presence in schools would make them safer, two recent surveys show.

Rasmussen reports 62 percent of parents with school-age children said they would feel safer having an armed guard at school, compared with 22 percent if their child attended a gun-free school. A Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll shows 64 percent of Americans support increasing a police presence in schools while 29 percent oppose it.

Obama’s own daughters have armed officers in their school, according to reports.