January 12, 2013 8:13:34 PM
JACKSON -- Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves is proposing a $7.5 million program to help schools hire trained and armed law enforcement officers to work on campus.
Reeves said Friday that the plan is a direct response to last month's slayings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and he'll ask lawmakers to approve it this session. Individual schools could apply for $10,000 from the state, and the schools would have to spend at least that much themselves.
Reeves said if the plan is popular, lawmakers could expand it later. The $7.5 million would cover 750 of the roughly 1,050 public school campuses.
He said 369 officers are already working in schools, some splitting their time among multiple campuses. His plan would not make the hiring of officers mandatory. Rather, it would make money available if schools want to apply.
"The decision to have an officer or not is ultimately going to be made at the local level," Reeves said.
Reeves said he also wants Mississippi courts to report to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System database when a court finds a person mentally incompetent or commits a person to a mental institution or when someone either pleads guilty or is found guilty of a crime because of insanity.
The information would help block people with a history of mental illness from buying firearms when they undergo instant background checks, Reeves said.
He said 16 states, including Alabama, Texas and Georgia, require courts to report such information to the database.
Reeves' proposals partly reflect those outlined by the National Rifle Association several days after 20 children and six adults were shot to death at a Newtown elementary school. While the NRA proposed putting trained, armed volunteers at schools across the U.S., Reeves would require campus officers to go through the state law enforcement officers' training academy.
A regional representative of the NRA attended Reeves' news conference at the Capitol Friday, but Reeves said she was not allowed to answer questions from reporters.
Other state agencies have been working on school safety plans since the Newtown shootings, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency spokesman Jeff Rent said in a separate interview Friday. Among them are the Department of Education, the Department of Public Safety, the Institutions of Higher Learning, the Department of Health and MEMA.
The Education Department, in a statement late Friday, said it's currently evaluating its policies and procedures as it works to expand efforts to support a safe school environment.
"We share those concerns and that's why the MDE is looking at an array of possibilities to enhance our school safety policies and procedures," said interim Superintendent Lynn House.
Some changes under consideration include a more stringent link between accreditation requirements and school safety issues, additional safety assessments, and more safety training for superintendents, principals, counselors and teachers.
"We also will work to identify additional strategies to work collaboratively with our partners, including law enforcement officials and mental health professionals," House said.
One of the first mass shootings on a U.S. campus happened in Mississippi on Oct. 1, 1997. Two students were shot to death and seven were wounded at Pearl High School, outside Jackson. An assistant principal got a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol from his truck and held the shooter, Luke Woodham, at gunpoint until police arrived. Woodham is serving two life sentences. He had stabbed his mother to death at home before he started shooting on campus.
Pearl school officials are helping MEMA and the other state agencies to develop campus safety plans, Rent said.
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