By Any Means Necessary: Do We Need Police In Schools?

Nothing is off the table when it comes to protecting our kids.

Officer Brandon Stacey
Officer Brandon Stacey of the Marlboro police department guards the entrance to Frank Defino Central Elementary School. The town is testing armed security in its nine schools.
Photo by Angel Chevrestt.

The horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which took the lives of 20 children as well as six faculty and staff, has raised the inevitable question: How can we protect our children from violence perpetrated by a madman fully armed and intent on mass murder?

The more we hear from government officials, advocates on both sides of the gun-control issue, and other concerned parties, the more I’m convinced that there is no single solution. Further, I think any measure that has the potential to protect our children is worthy of consideration.

As might be expected, after the Sandy Hook tragedy the National Rifle Association suggested placing an armed law-enforcement professional in every school. The NRA even advocated arming teachers. That’s ludicrous. But is it so crazy to have a police presence in every public school? I say it’s worth examining.

Not everyone agrees. “It’s just not a solution or even [a means to reduce] the kind of violence that it would be intended to combat,” says Nicola Bocour, project director for Ceasefire NJ. “When it comes to dealing with the culture of violence in this country and general concerns over allowing our children to become overly desensitized, having them start from kindergarten and go all the way through high school with military weapons in their face is not the way to go.”

I respect the work of Ceasefire NJ, an organization dedicated to reducing gun violence. However, there are armed security guards in banks, department stores, airports and other public places. That’s the nature of modern society. We should be able to explain to our children that the armed officer in their school is part of a larger effort to protect them, along with evacuation and disaster drills.

Clearly, there is no reason any private citizen should be able to legally purchase an assault weapon or have a magazine that carries more than 10 bullets. An armed security presence in our schools could be combined with tougher national gun control laws such as the proposals advocated by President Barack Obama as well as our own Senator Frank Lautenberg.

After the events in Connecticut, the Marlboro Township Board of Education placed a police officer in each of its nine schools for a test period of 90 days. The cost of the Monmouth County town’s experiment was approximately $100,000.

Newtown law-enforcement officials will eventually file a report on Sandy Hook. Marlboro’s mayor, Jonathan Hornik, told my NJTV colleague Mike Schneider on the weeknight news show NJ Today that the town will review that before drawing any conclusions. “We will wait to see what comes out, and our police department will make some recommendation to the Board of Ed, and then we will make a decision of whether to continue the police in our schools program.”

To New Jersey’s credit, the state has some of the strongest gun control laws in the nation. Governor Chris Christie has made it clear that he doesn’t like the idea of armed guards in our schools. “I think that this moment should cause us to foster a national discussion about violence in our society,” Christie told me in a televised interview at NJPAC. “And that includes discussing gun control laws, mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, and violence in media…both in television and movies and in video games. All of those things have contributed to a desensitizing of our society to violence.”

I agree with the governor that protecting our children from gun violence calls for a multifaceted approach. Rather than focus on a single solution, our approach should be “by any means necessary.” We need to do everything we can, but then we have to face the fact that no matter what we do, there is no guarantee we can and will be able to prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook and Columbine.

That is the toughest reality of all.

So let’s put everything on the table. A police presence in our schools. A national ban on assault weapons. Greater restrictions on the number of bullets a magazine can hold. More effective mental health screening of those who would purchase guns.

The time for rigid ideological positions on this complex issue is long past. We need compromise and reasonable discourse. Our children deserve nothing less.

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