A group of law enforcement officials advised the Natrona County school board Monday to put more police in schools but cautioned against arming teachers.
The meeting, which was attended by the Casper police chief and the Natrona County sheriff, was the first public discussion between school board members and law enforcement since the Feb. 14 massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school. It comes as the board and the country at large debate how to best protect schools. In Wyoming, many districts — including Natrona County — are beginning to look seriously at arming trained and willing staff members.
Much of the meeting revolved around the talking points that are often brought up in the wake of these shootings: arming staff, gun-free zones and increasing police — or armed guards — in schools.
Currently, there are two school resources officers in Casper. The district has more than 30 schools and nearly 13,000 students.
“I was stunned there were only two,” Casper Police Chief Kevin McPheeters said. He’d like to add two more by the beginning of the next school year and continue building the numbers after that, he added.
“There are two guys taking care of 12,000-plus kids,” said Casper Police Lt. Ryan Dabney. “Unfortunately, there’s no way. You have to increase those numbers.”
While both the school board and law enforcement want to do just that, it’s unclear how: The district has faced funding cuts over the past two years, and the city is not exactly flush with cash. The police department has other, more pressing needs, McPheeters said.
“You guys passed a resolution, but I don’t think there was any funding involved,” board member Kevin Christopherson called out to Dallas Laird, a city councilman who was sitting in the audience Monday.
But there are relatively small things schools can do to improve security, Dabney said. For one, schools should have a single point of entry. Students and staff should go in one door and not open side doors for anyone.
“That can’t happen,” Dabney told the school board. “Nobody should be letting them in those doors.”
At the front doors, visitors often need to be buzzed in by staff. The staff manning those stations should pay more attention to who’s trying to walk in, law enforcement said. Just seeing a smiling face doesn’t mean that person is there for benevolent reasons.
A number of board members asked about arming staff. School districts across the state are considering allowing trained and willing staff to bear arms in schools, and Natrona County’s board is in the early stages of looking at implementing a policy.
Law enforcement seemed uniformly against it.
“I am vehemently opposed to it,” Dabney said. He’d hate if police were to enter a school in an active-shooter situation, saw an adult holding a gun and opened fire, not knowing that it was just a teacher.
“This is a decision that is fraught with peril,” McPheerson said of arming staff.
Law enforcement officers are highly trained to carry handguns, he said, and in scenarios in which they have to use them, they hit their target less than 20 percent of the time. Now, consider a teacher holding a handgun in a chaotic situation.
District Attorney Michael Blonigen said another problem is keeping the weapon secured 24 hours a day. Plus, what happens if the teacher shoots a student? What if a student gets a hold of the gun?
“Boy, what kind of civil liability are you taking on here if you’re going to arm teachers?” he said. “Wow. Those checks ain’t small. ... To me there’s just too many — it’s fraught with so many legal liability and potential problems.”
Board member Clark Jensen said he was concerned that schools being gun-free zones had made them an easy target.
McPheeters said any place where a large number of people are in a confined space is a target and that the best deterrent was a police presence.
“Gun free doesn’t make you any greater target,” he said. “It’s concentration of people.”
Blonigen added that most school shooters are students themselves. These shooters target places against which they have specific grievances. Plus, the shooters often don’t have any intention of making it out alive, so would the presence of armed personnel have any effect as a deterrent?
He also cautioned against a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to dealing with threats. They should be dealt with on an individual basis, he said. The police may request that they search the student’s home. But Bloningen said officials should ask more questions before bringing in the police.