Armed guards in every public school in the state could make schools safer. But if the Legislature is going to require officers in schools, it needs to provide the money to pay for them.
Since the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which claimed the lives of 20 children and six educators, school officials, parents and law enforcement agencies nationwide have sought ways to improve safety at schools. Suggestions have ranged from the sensible – requiring all school employees to wear IDs – to the ridiculous – arming teachers.
But one of the most frequently mentioned proposals calls for placing trained police officers in schools. In January, State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel told a state Senate committee that putting a police officer in every school in South Carolina is a necessary, common-sense approach to preventing shootings.
“If there was one thing I could do tomorrow to improve safety in our schools, school resource officers would the No. 1 thing,” Keel told senators.
Subsequently, a bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate to put a trained police officer in every school in the state. Under the bill, the state also would pay for all officers who now are paid for by school districts, counties and municipalities.
The S.C. House also has legislation to place officers in schools. But the House bill provides no money from the state to pay for officers, placing that burden on counties, municipalities and school districts.
Some schools already have officers, usually as a result of an arrangement between local law enforcement agencies and school districts. In Richland and Lexington counties, for example, the cost of school resource officers is split between sheriff’s departments and school districts.
But many law enforcement officials have said that having to provide officers paid for by their agencies would be devastating to their departments without financial help from the state. While wealthier counties and cities might be able to shoulder the burden, many poorer districts no doubt would have a hard time meeting the requirement.
We think that stationing armed, certified law enforcement officers steeped in crisis management and trained specifically in dealing with young people could be a valuable asset in making schools safer. If government is going to require children to attend public schools, it also has an obligation to keep them safe.
Bur putting officers in every school in the state would not be cheap. The cost has been estimated at $80 million a year.
And making this an unfunded mandate and placing the burden on local officials to pay for protection is not the solution.
In the wake of the recession, many law enforcement agencies across the state still are stretched thin. Asking them to provide officers to guard schools could seriously jeopardize their primary function of serving the entire community.
If House members are serious about placing armed guards in schools, they need to find a way for the state to pay for them.