BY NATE BELL –
Last December the world looked on in horror as reports of more than two dozen murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School become yet another stark reminder that children in schools around the nation are vulnerable to evil people with murderous intent. The Clarksville School District and several other local school districts around the state have shown leadership as they developed a plan to train and arm volunteer staff as private security officers. I supported this innovative idea and was disappointed to learn that our Attorney General considers it to be illegal under current law.
The day of the Sandy Hook tragedy I once again examined school security options as I sought to improve the safety of Arkansas children, teachers and staff. As a former auxiliary deputy sheriff, one of the first possibilities I considered was the concept of placing trained volunteer law enforcement officers in classrooms and other school facilities. I immediately encountered a barrier to this idea as state law severely restricted the number of auxiliary officers a department could commission. The numbers permitted under existing law were simply not adequate to provide officers in sufficient force. This was especially true in sparsely populated rural counties with multiple school facilities. It became clear that a legislative solution was needed. I believe that such a solution was achieved through the combined effects of two bills passed by the 89th General Assembly. Act 705 removes the cap on the number of auxiliary officers a local law enforcement agency may commission as school resource officers. Act 415 makes trained auxiliary officers exempt from the concealed carry permit requirements and permits them to carry a firearm in otherwise prohibited places. School employees willing to volunteer for the required 100 hours of training can now become auxiliary law enforcement officers and the number needed for adequate school security can be determined by local authorities.
I want to make it crystal clear that Arkansas state law requires auxiliary officers to have the same firearms training as full time officers. Auxiliary officers must also pass a psychological screening before being commissioned. If school districts adopt the option I’m presenting today, they’ll be positioning more trained, screened and prepared law enforcement officers in proximity to those we seek to protect.
I believe that state government should not mandate local school district security policies. It is the proper role of state government to ensure that local communities have an assortment of options available to them while allowing the choices and implementation to be local. I also believe that local citizens and officials are best able to determine which of the available options best protects their children, teachers and staff. Today, I am proposing that local school districts and law enforcement agencies consider working together to determine a school security plan that includes commissioning volunteer school employees as auxiliary officers. Thanks to the new options made available by the legislature it is now possible for a local community to provide the highest level of protection for its schools without a substantial increase in cost or hiring of new personnel. Commissioning trained volunteer staff will be the best option for some school districts. It may not be the best option for others. We must protect Arkansas children and communities from becoming the victims of those who intend harm and I’m proud that our communities will now have yet another option to consider.
I’m including a link to the current laws pertaining to auxiliary officers. They are modified by Acts 415 and 705 which take effect later this month and are not engrossed at the link. I’ll be happy to discuss details with those who are interested.
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