Archived Story

Polk forms school security task force

Published 1:50pm Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Public weighs in on school resource officers

Polk County Commissioners decided to form a school security task force to assess the schools regarding security following the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Commissioners met on Monday, Jan. 7 and agreed to form the task force consisting of local law enforcement and school officials. Commissioners also discussed placing school resource officers in each school and heard public comments regarding that proposal. The majority of commissioners said the issue of school resource officers should be left up to the task force regarding whether or not they are needed.

Commissioner Tom Pack placed the task force on Monday’s agenda and said commissioners aren’t qualified to instruct the school on what it needs for security. He said he doesn’t want to do a knee-jerk reaction and wants the task force to come back to commissioners to tell the county what is needed.

Commissioner Ray Gasperson placed the idea of school resource officers on the agenda for discussion.

Gasperson said Sheriff Hill has been a strong advocate of school resource officers and he supports the sheriff.

“They are different than just an armed guard,” said Gasperson. “They are officers who are especially trained to be in the schools.”

He suggested that officers definitely need to be in the middle and high school but he’d also like to see them at the elementary schools.

Commissioner Ted Owens said he doesn’t think any commissioner is against school resource officers, but he thinks the task force needs to recommend them if they are needed.

Public comments included opinions for and against school resource officers.

Resident Leslie Huntely discussed a training program where Columbus is currently leading the way for school law enforcement training. She said the training helps any law enforcement official take a look and understand and recognize when something “ain’t quite right.”

“That person may be an Adam Lanza or leaning in that direction,” Huntley said.

Ricky McFalls cautioned commissioners to wait on the task force’s opinion.

“They are going to work on this, this task force,” McFalls said. “We don’t need $500,000 spent up….All the folks on the school board and Sheriff Hill are going to do an excellent job. Let’s not put the cart before the horse.”

N.C. state trooper Darryl Bailey offered commissioners a list of statistics on shootings and gave commissioners suggestions for school protection.

Bailey, who has been a state trooper for 26 years and is a firearms and concealed weapons instructor said no citizen can carry a weapon on school grounds and every mass shooting since the 1990s has occurred in a no gun area. He also said most shootings take less than five minutes and most shooters take their own lives.

“Not every teacher or worker should be armed in their school,” Bailey said.

Bailey said the pros of having school resource officers are they get to know the students and teachers, there’s an armed presence in the schools and they can take quick action.

The cons include that sometimes an officer can be intimidating, the costs, the training and getting the right officers.

Bailey said other options could be to have a school employee volunteer to go through Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) to be sworn in by the sheriff’s office. That way, the school employee could carry a concealed weapon and no one knows who it is. He said another option is hiring off-duty or retired officers.

Resident Russell Mierop said as a former Polk County student he always felt safe going to school with a uniformed armed officer there.

Resident James Hrynyshyn said he has a six-year-old at Saluda and expressed caution about having armed persons at schools. He said out of 62 mass shootings, there’s not a single case where an armed civilian stopped the shooting. He also mentioned in August in New York there was a shooting where nine civilians were injured by the police. Hrynyshyn said he doesn’t have anything against guns in particular but if those guns end up doing something terrible it will be the county who would face a lawsuit.

The task force, which will include Polk County Sheriff Donald Hill, Polk County School Superintendent Bill Miller, Interim Polk County Manager Marche Pittman, Columbus Police Chief Chris Beddingfield, Saluda Police Chief James Cantrell, Tryon Police Chief Jeff Arrowood and school board officials plans to hold its first meeting on Jan. 23. The meeting will be facilitated by Isothermal Planning and Development Director Jim Edwards.



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