There's been a lot of debate nationally and locally about how to prevent school shootings like the one that left 17 people dead in Parkland, Florida, last February.
Republican state Rep. Jim Walsh from Aberdeen said one important prevention tool is to provide resource officers in schools, and he’s pre-filed a bill that would authorize funding from the state to pay for one in each public school.
School resource officers are sworn law enforcement officers who generally carry a firearm and are usually deployed by a police or sheriff’s department on a school campus.
Providing more school resource officers was one of the recommendations in a recent report from the Washington Mass Shootings Work Group.
Walsh said this is a practical step to make schools more secure. “We need to make them safer,” he said. “There’s nothing worse than having our public schools soft targets.”
He said school resource officers would deal with a number of situations that arise in school.
“They deal with personal issues of the students, but they also are there to represent law and order on the campus and discourage and deter all sorts of bad behaviors – bullying behaviors and also violent behaviors,” he said.
The bill specifies that each school resource officer would receive a salary of $70,000 annually. The figure would be adjusted for inflation and consider a district’s regionalization factor, which aims to address higher housing costs in certain areas. Walsh said that would cost the state about $190 million a year, which he said Washington could afford without raising taxes.
But teachers and students have spoken out against adding armed officers to school campuses, and the ACLU of Washington said there's a dearth of evidence that they deter school shootings.
“The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has twice noted the absence of empirical evidence to support the position that school police prevent shootings,” Vanessa Torres Hernandez, youth policy director of ACLU of Washington, wrote in a letter to the Washington Mass Shootings Work Group.
She said students of color and students who have been victimized by violence have said they felt less safe in schools with a school resource officer, and that school police in Washington disproportionately arrest students who are black, Latino, Native American or receive special education services.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said it doesn’t collect data on how many schools have a school resource officer. Tacoma Public Schools spokesman Dan Voelpel said the district uses local levy dollars to pay for five Tacoma Police Department officers and a sergeant to supervise them. The officers are stationed at the district’s five comprehensive high schools and can be reassigned to other schools as needed.
That costs Tacoma Public Schools $400,000 each year, he said.