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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Hugs and guns to keep kids safe

Cpl. Pamela Revels greets students at Loachapoka Elementary School near Auburn, Ala. on Pajama Day. Photo: Audra Melton/New York Times

Pamela Revels “dispenses hugs and smiles” at schools around Auburn, Alabama, reports the New York Times in a story about school resource officers. A sheriff’s deputy, “wears a sidearm and a bulletproof vest . . . and has an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle stored nearby.”

Last week, when someone reported a man in camouflage carrying a gun near a school, she searched for the gunmen while students and teachers locked themselves in classrooms and closets. It was a false alarm.

About 30 percent of schools had a resource officer in 2013, up from 1 percent in 1975, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

. . . The position, with its genial-sounding name, is an unusual hybrid of counselor, educator and cop, and perhaps no other job better personifies America’s shifting ideas about schools, policing and safety. . . . “They have to be a mentor — a kind, caring, trusting adult, the nice police officer who will give you a high-five and ask you how your day is going,” said John McDonald, the security chief for the Jefferson County, Colo., school district, which includes Columbine High. “And very quickly they have to become a tactical cop.”

After the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, more schools hired police officers. In recent years, the campaign to end the “school-to-prison pipeline” has persuaded some schools to rely less on law-enforcement officers.

Congressional Research Service report released after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012 said that some studies suggested that the officers’ presence deterred assaults and discouraged students from bringing weapons to campus. The report also noted that students in officer-staffed schools might be more likely to be arrested for low-level offenses. In 2016, the Obama administration expressed concern about unnecessary arrests after police and sheriff’s departments in several areas, including East Hartford, Conn., and Washington State, were criticized for handcuffing students too readily. Several years earlier, following similar criticism there, Broward County officers and schools created a program to avoid arrests for nonviolent misdemeanors such as disorderly conduct and alcohol and marijuana use.

Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, believes that policy kept Nikolas Cruz from being arrested for assault as a student at Douglas High School. If the future shooter had been arrested, “we could have gotten court-ordered mental health care and family services that he so desperately needed,” Bell said. “We could have taken the guns away.”

Florida Sen. Marc Rubio questioned the Obama-era guidance on school arrests that “calls on schools not to rely on school police officers to administer routine student discipline,” reports Ed Week.

Armed guards are back in fashion. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has proposed spending $450 million to put a resource officer at every school. He also wants to spend an additional $50 million on mental health services.

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