Update: Decision on disarming school security officers on hold

Day, night security officers armed, campus officers not armed

Recommendations that could include disarming Highline Public Schools security officers are on hold until April.

Superintendent Susan Enfield said Jan. 9 that recommendations would be made within a week and a half. But after meeting with local police chiefs and a King County Sheriff’s captain, Enfield decided to hire former Des Moines Police Chief Roger Baker as a consultant to review a whole series of issues around school security.

Enfield said at the Jan. 23 board meeting that after the police chiefs’ meeting, she felt it would be irresponsible not to do a much more thorough review. She estimated new proposals could come by April 1.

A district steering committee studied Highline’s security plan and presented a report at a Dec. 12 board work session.

The session occurred two days before the shootings at a Connecticut elementary school. After the shootings, the possibility that Highline security officers was highlighted in several media reports Board members heard several pleas at their next board meeting not to disarm the officers.

Baker retired after serving as Des Moines police chief. Before coming to Des Moines, Baker was police chief in Anaheim. The Southern California city of 341,000 residents is home to Disneyland.

Teamsters Local 763 business agent Jason Powell, who represents Highline’s security officers, said the officers respect Baker’s police credentials. Baker also has experience working with the Highline district and its security department, Powell noted.

However, there are other law enforcement consultants available who specialize in school security, Powell added.

Immediately following Enfield’s meeting with the chiefs, Powell expressed concern that she would recommend disarming district security officers while adding more school resource officers. School resource officers (SROs) are armed commissioned police officers assigned to schools.

Asked if he feared Baker would favor police officers over security officers, Powell said he would be “shocked” if Baker concludes students would be safer if security officers are disarmed.

Powell emphasized that half of the district’s security officers have been commissioned—either as reserve police officers or retired police officers.

“It’s not like a few weeks ago they were standing around Best Buy making sure items were not being shoplifted,” Powell declared.

Powell said Highline students already bring weapons to school knowing the security officers are armed. Reportedly, an average of 36 guns and knives are confiscated from Highline students each year.

“I don’t know what they would do if they knew the officers weren’t armed,” Powell declared.

Powell asks, “How will anybody be safer by disarming them?”

He contends, “the Highline School District already has the model that, more likely than not, is going to become the national model.”

There are several levels of security in the district.

Armed security personnel monitor schools overnight. They save the district money by being the first responders to alarms that go off at the schools, most of which turn out to be false. The cities level fines if police respond to alarms that end up not being valid.

The night shift also responds to alarms that turn out to be for actual crimes.

Some high schools have unarmed campus security officers at school during the day.

Armed security services officers are also assigned within high school service areas during the day. A service area is within the attendance boundaries for each large high school campus. If the security services officer is not at the assigned high school during the day, they are in “close proximity,” Powell noted.

Highline High, Mt. Rainier High and the Tyee/Chinook campus also have armed police SROs. They are in their assigned schools but can be called away on other police business.

With the Connecticut shootings, the focal point in Highline has been on whether the officers will be disarmed.

However, when the district first began the overall review of the security department about a year before Enfield came to Highline, much of the emphasis was on reducing suspensions and expulsions.

Board members wondered who should investigate third party accusations—police, security or counselors.

With their tax revenues squeezed, local cities have looked to the school district to pay more of the SRO costs. The district has also had to cut its costs during the economic downturn.

While Powell worries Enfield and some board members have already decided to disarm security officers, district officials insist no decisions have been made on how accusations are handled as well as who should provide school security and what equipment they need.

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