Should School Resource Officers (SROs) store high-powered weapons in schools?

Posted by on March 13, 2014

Given today’s active shooters may very well come heavily armed, and perhaps better equipped, than the typical school-based police officer who may encounter them in a school hallway, some local law enforcement agencies are looking at leveling the playing field.

Aim for transparency

When police departments propose storing in schools some higher-powered weapons than the standard firearm carried by their School Resource Officers (SRO), chances are good that the subject will become a school board and community level issue. It will also likely end up in the local, and perhaps even national, news media.

If police chiefs/sheriffs take the issue to their superintendents, they should expect the superintendent will discuss it with their board. In my opinion, superintendents should do so given the administrative, safety, and school-community relations aspects of the issue. Having the school board learn of this proposal from parents or the media would be unfair to the board, to say the least.

In today’s political and social media world, school boards, superintendents, and chiefs/sheriffs should also plan with the assumption that the proposal will be known to the public and media in a short period of time, if not instantly. Each school-community culture is different, so parent and community reaction may vary.

Plan ahead: Prepare for weapons security and public education

Some general guidance on this topic that I suggest to law enforcement agency heads, superintendents, and school boards include:

  1. You need to prepare a strong education component for school administrators at the building level, school staff at the building level, the superintendent and board, parents/community, and the media before you go forward. Develop questions likely to be asked and have answers ready, and answer those questions in your presentations on the topic.
  2. While law enforcement and school safety professionals understand the rationale behind the idea and often have no opposition, I have some caveats that go along with supporting such proposals including, but not limited to:
    •  Store the higher-powered weapons only during school hours when SROs are present. The weapons come and go with the officer.
    •  Physical security of the weapons storage units (safes) must be strong and this should be clearly communicated during the education process.
    •  Physical security of the SRO office should also be examined prior to implementing such a strategy. An off-master key or electronic access control that nobody else (custodial, teachers, etc.) should have, no false ceilings, glass/door hardware strengthening considerations, perhaps a dedicated alarm for that room, etc. are all fair game.
    • Formal documented policies and procedures should be created by the law enforcement agency and in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the school district. It does not have to be “paralysis-by-analysis,” but there should be written guidelines.
    • Both the law enforcement agency and school district should review the proposed plan with their respective legal counsel, insurance carriers, etc.
  3. School and law enforcement leaders should anticipate student, staff, parent, community, and media questions. Be prepared. Research other departments that are doing it in your area, pull together stats on how many SROs/districts are doing it regionally/state/nationally, etc. Have cases available to point to where it has been needed, used, etc., in actual incidents.

It is reasonable for our police officers in schools to want to have access to the same weaponry their officer counterparts patrolling the streets have available to them. This may mean not only their 9mm handgun, but also a Taser and higher-powered firearms issued to departmental officers. We certainly do not want those who protect us outgunned by the criminals.

The devil is in the details: Implementation and communications

At the same time, schools are unique settings and this must be factored into the implementation and communications processes. As with many other aspects of school-policing, as well as education and law enforcement in general, well-thought-out implementation plans, sound policies and procedures, and strong education and communication plans are critical to successfully implementing this public safety strategy.

Ken Trump

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2 thoughts on “Should School Resource Officers (SROs) store high-powered weapons in schools?

  1. I have very strong opinions about the storage of weapons. I do not support the permanent storage of weapons at any educational institution. Any location that implements storage of weapons becomes a valuable target for those wanting to acquire a stockpile of weapons and ammunition. The school district would have to turn the school into a highly secured location, basically turning the school into an armory. This would require expenditures far beyond what most communities will allow and an expensive upgrading of manpower and physical security to guard the stockpile. My opinion is that any weapons must be transported with professionally trained and certified officers and then taken off site at the end of the work day. To do otherwise is actually causing more threat and danger to the children we are trying to protect. A second point is that the mere presence of weapons raises the risk of accidental discharge. Loading and unloading should not be done on school property outside of actual incidents. Pistols should be loaded and securely holstered when brought on site, long guns should be loaded safe, or in other words, magazine in, nothing in the chamber. The risk is such that somewhere at some point someone will make a judgment error or out of complacency, short cut any rules in place and cause a tragic accident. Criminals and terrorists should never know that schools are storing weapons and ammunition.

    1. Laura Beach says:

      While your point about the possibility that a school would become a target for criminals solely because weapons were stored there is well taken, I disagree that it would be an excessive expenditure for many communities or more dangerous for the children at the schools. These weapons would have to be stored somewhere in the community and storing them at a school is no more expensive than storing them at any other location. School Resource Officers need to have access to high power weapons as any incident is unfolding. They should not have to wait for backup to arrive. With the addition of high powered weapons, a SRO might be able to end an incident quickly (potentially before other officers arrive) and save lives. Since most schools do not have more than one or two SROs, the number of weapons being stored on school grounds would be minimal. And while it only takes one weapon, accidentally used, to harm a child, a small number of weapons are fairly easy to store securely.
      As for long guns being brought on site with the magazine in but no round in the chamber, I think that is unlikely to happen. If police officers are responding to an incident at a school they are going to have their guns loaded with rounds in chambers and magazines full. This gives them maximum firepower and that one extra round may make the difference. No police officer I know ever carries a weapon short a round.

      That still leaves your point about criminals and terrorists knowing there were weapons at a school. I think most criminals would be more likely to try and steal those weapons after school hours since their goal, presumably, would be to acquire the weapons to use them to commit other crimes. So plain old criminals probably aren’t much of a concern as far as the safety of our children goes. A good alarm system at the school would alert police to the possibility that someone was trying to steal those weapons. Terrorists are another matter entirely. Attacking a school full of children wouldn’t, most likely, be a problem for them psychologically. They might even see if as a plus. Terrorists are, in my opinion, more likely to want to attack a school while it is in session. But they would see attacking a school full of children as a valid target whether weapons were there or not. And having the weapons on site might give an SRO a chance to stop the terrorists before they injured, killed, or captured any child. When dealing with terrorists, we need any and all law enforcement on scene to have as much firepower as possible to protect our children.

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