Colorado officials respond to NRA's call for armed cops in all schools
The only way to stop the next gunman "waiting in the wings" is to place an armed police officer in every school in America, National Rifle Association chief executive Wayne LaPierre said Friday morning.
Just one week after a shooting at a Connecticut elementary school where 20 children and six adults were killed — and as polls showed an increasing public cry for more gun control — the nation's largest gun-rights lobby group demanded Congress immediately appropriate funds for additional officers.
The NRA also asked for the creation of an "active database of the mentally ill," against which gun purchases could be checked.
LaPierre, who took no questions from reporters, warned that swift action was needed to stop the next killer from being lured to action by the "media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall action and a sense of identity that they crave."
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun," LaPierre said, "is a good guy with a gun."
In Colorado, many public schools are already staffed by armed police or deputies — and have been since before the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School.
Several Colorado law enforcement agencies that oversee the school resource officer programs say increasing the number of cops at schools might be welcomed, but the vastness of NRA's call to arms is unrealistic.
"I don't think that anyone is going to look at the NRA for school-safety practices," Greenwood Village police Chief John Jackson.
Tony Bendera of Westminster is shooting at the indoor range of Firing-Line, Colorado's largest gun shop, on Wednesday. Aurora, CO. November 28, 2012. (Denver Post file photo)
Jackson's department manages five school resource officers who work at five schools, including Cherry Creek High. The 90-acre campus is the largest noncollegiate campus in Colorado.
"It's not about just sitting in an office," Jackson said. "They spend their days split into three jobs — they are a teacher, a counselor and a police officer. At any given time, they can be doing many of those roles."
Jefferson County Sheriff's Sgt. Wayne Holverson, who oversees 10 of the 37 officers who patrol Jeffco Public Schools, said deputies are stretched so thin that he can't imagine adding more schools to the patrol.
Those 10 deputies work primarily at five high schools, including Columbine, and nine middle schools and assist at 32 elementary schools. Since the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, in Newtown, Conn., deputies in the division have been required to check in at least one elementary school in the morning and one elementary school in the afternoon.
During a typical school day, deputies may handle multiple incidents, ranging from sitting in on student meetings with counselors to taking reports of thefts from lockers to investigating incidents of "sexting."
"It's a very challenging scenario to think there's a capability of having an armed law enforcement professional in every school all the time," County Sheriffs of Colorado executive director Chris Olson told The Denver Post editorial board. "It's not just a cop sitting at the front door."
School resource officer programs in Colorado are only a single — and expensive — element of school-security programs.
Denver Public Schools' total security budget is $5.4 million, and $1.5 million of that budget covers a contract with the Denver Police Department for the district's 15 school resource officers, DPS spokesman Dave Nachtweih said.
Shrinking school budgets could affect districts' abilities to keep or expand school resource officer programs and could result in cuts to crucial programs used to prevent school violence, said Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association.
"We've cut $1 billion in funding that has reduced the number of school counselors and school psychologists," Dallman said. "If we are serious as a nation and as a state, we really have to focus our attention so our students have access to high quality mental health services early on."
National Education Association president Dennis Van Roekel called the NRA's demands "shocking."
"Their delusional assumption that everything other than guns contribute to these tragedies reflects just how out of touch the NRA has become," Roekel said in a statement. "Their proposal misses the fact that in many schools across the country, we have school resource officers and yet tragic incidents like Newtown, Chardon, Columbine, Paducah and Jonesboro still have occurred."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.