By Chuck Forbis
Lewisburg Police Chief
We have all been shocked by the recent event at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Perhaps many of us remember simpler times when our greatest concerns regarding violence in our children's school was whether they would become involved in a fight on the playground or at the football game. During my career in law enforcement, I have seen these concerns grow from worrying about a son coming home with a black eye to praying we do not get a phone call or text message about our child's school being locked down because of a shooting.
There has been a lot of conversation and media reporting in recent days focused on a wide variety of proposed fixes to the perceived epidemic of school shooting incidents. Most of the proposals are offered as the one solution that will put a stop to all of this violence and is usually narrowly focused depending on the background or beliefs of the one doing the proposing. We commonly refer to all of the "experts" as talking heads on the various news and talk show outlets. The solutions offered range from banning all firearms or banning assault style firearms to a more proactive and aggressive stance on identifying and dealing with the mental health issues that seem to be present in many of these incidents.
There is at least one state legislator who said he will be proposing a bill in the upcoming session to allow all teachers to be armed with firearms. I would be concerned with such a policy. The incidence of school shootings is still a relatively rare occurrence. Where would the firearms be kept during the rest of the time they would not be needed to defend against such an event? How accessible would they be to students or others during the school day or at the sporting events, or on field trips? What reccurring training would be required of the staff, if any, to handle a firearm in a crowded environment? I have been placed in that situation during my career and without the training and experience that I had the outcome may have been much worse for innocent bystanders.
The issues of which solutions should be put in place to stop these violent incidents at our schools will continue for some time. I do not believe that we should accept a knee-jerk reaction and implement something that could be inappropriate, ineffective and potentially dangerous. A news story that appeared in this paper on Wednesday quoted me as stating that I believed that there should be a School Resource Officer (SRO) in every school. I am a firm believer that having SROs in every school is a very effective tool in not only deterring violence, but also providing education, support and advice to the students and staff at all levels of education. Commissioners in Williamson County recently held an emergency session where they voted to approve funding for the Sheriff's Office to add SROs for every elementary school.
I do not know if we, in Marshall County, would be able to do the same as Williamson County. We would need to have the financial commitment and dedication that was demonstrated there. However, if it is possible to find funding to expand the SRO program to our elementary schools, I think the program needs to be reassessed. What do we want the SROs to do? Should they just be there as security guards? There is a tremendous opportunity, especially at the elementary school level, to provide the kind of guidance and education in areas of gang and drug resistance that can make a difference in a child's life. The SRO program must include more than just a security or traffic control component to be an effective use of the resources and tax dollars being expended for such a program. The safety and security of our children has to be a top priority. That encompasses so much more than just planning for a possible attack on one of our schools. We have to address the negative influences that impact our children every day and a true SRO program would be well suited to that task.