Our view: New law won't guarantee school safety

April 9, 2013 10:18:37 AM



Sometime soon, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant will sign into law the Mississippi Community Oriented Policing Services in Schools (MCOPS) grant program, which will allow the state's school districts to apply for money to hire armed resource officers. 


Since the grants, which are capped at $10,000, aren't likely to fully cover the cost of hiring a resource officer, it is unclear how many schools will apply. Schools are already underfunded as it is, so school boards may have to choose between hiring a resource officer and meeting other needs. 


While we applaud every effort to ensure the safety of our schools, we suspect such programs may not be the solution that some lawmakers have proclaimed it to be. 


Among the popular myths that have emerged during the last few months is the assertion that mass-killers avoid places that are protected by armed security. The thinking goes that having an armed resource officer will be a strong deterrent to those who are inclined to massacre innocents. The National Rifle Association's insistence that "the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun" is not supported by facts. 


As recently as last week, we've seen that some shooters are not at all deterred by the presence of "good guys with guns." In Jackson, a murder suspect took a gun away from a Jackson Police Department detective in a JPD interrogation room and killed the officer before turning the gun on himself. 


This is not as isolated as you might be inclined to believe. In fact, the April 3 shooting was the fourth instance of a shootout in a police station in the past six months. In New Jersey, Illinois and Michigan, officers were also shot at police precincts. 


It is rare that mass shooters make any effort to flee the scene, which argues against the deterrent theory as well. When you consider that criminals routinely rob banks despite the presence of armed security, the idea of the deterrent effect of armed personnel suffers, too. Police shootouts are not uncommon. Criminals do not necessarily surrender their weapon when confronted by armed resistance. 


In truth, there is no one measure that can be taken to ensure the safety of our schools. The safest schools are those whose approach to such threats are built on a variety of safety measures. 


In its original form, the bill allowed for school districts to arm teachers or staff. We were relieved when that proposal was taken out of the bill in its final form. Teachers and staff are not trained law enforcement professionals. There is a whole range of unintended consequences that might have resulted from permitting school staff to carry weapons.  


But even in its amended form, it is doubtful the new law will be something school districts will implement on a large scale.  


The presence of resource officers at schools provides an element of safety, but it is not a solution in and of itself. 


The potential danger associated with districts who do add resource officers is that it will create an illusion of safety to the point where all other policies, procedures and precautions are ignored. 


That would be a potentially tragic mistake.