Thursday , June 29 2017

School District to Arm Its Security Patrol with Semi-Automatic Rifles

iStock/Thinkstock(DENVER) -- A school district in central Colorado announced on Monday that it has upped the firepower for its armed security patrol division, reigniting a debate about what some see as the over-militarization of school security personnel.

The Douglas County School District spent $12,300 on 10 semi-automatic Bushmaster rifles and equipment back in January, but several school board members were only notified of the purchase recently, according to the school district's public information officer Paula Hans.

The rifles will be assigned to the district's eight armed security patrol, Hans told ABC News Tuesday. She explained that the officers, who already have handguns, still need to go undergo rifle training with the local sheriff's department before they are qualified to use the weapons.

"The decision to buy these guns were part of a proactive approach to figure out how to best protect students and staff in our district that sprawls across approximately 900 square miles," Hans said. "Richard Payne, the district's director of safety and security, wanted to make sure his officers have all the tools necessary if we have to respond to an incident to keep our students, staff safe."

While the school's armed security officers are on the duty, the rifles will be "stored in locking mechanisms" in school district vehicles and stored "in a safe during off-duty hours in the security office off school property," Hans said.

School board member Wendy Vogel told ABC affiliate KMGH-TV that she wished the school board was given the opportunity to discuss the purchase of the guns before they were made. Vogel said she only learned on Monday that the rifles were purchased.

"We’ve got to keep our kids safe, and we’ve got to keep our staff and community safe, but in my opinion, that’s the role of law enforcement," Vogel told KMGH. "It's not the role of a public school district."

Vogel did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for additional comment.

Another school board member, Meghann Silverthorn, told ABC News Tuesday that the conversation about the rifles began in July 2015 and that some board members were elected later on in November, so they might have been left out of the loop.

"Also, purchases only of $75,000 or more typically go before the board," she said. "This was way below that."

Silverthorn said she thinks "the reason people found out about it is that someone was looking at our financial transparency website and got alarmed like, 'Whoa, what's that?'"

She added that "the district makes hundreds of expenditures every day, and some wires may have crossed" but she's happy to talk to anyone who believes more discussion is necessary.

The miscommunication in the district about the purchase is "troubling," according to school safety and security expert Kenneth Trump, who is president of National School Safety and Security Services, a private consulting firm based in Cleveland.

Trump added that he hadn't heard of school security officers equipped with such firepower and that he thinks the school will need to have "important, necessary conversations about implementation."

"The devil is often in the details of implementation, and this is what concerns me," Trump said. "They will need to think about where the officers store it and how they will access it in the case of an emergency."

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