CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Utah lawmaker discusses arming school workers

Mar 1, 2024, 4:02 PM | Updated: Mar 2, 2024, 11:51 am

Former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Scot Peterson shown, a school arming school staff is aw...

Former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School School Resource Officer Scot Peterson reacts as he is found not guilty on all charges at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Thursday, June 29, 2023. Peterson was acquitted of child neglect and other charges for failing to act during the Parkland school massacre, where 14 students and three staff members were murdered. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)

SALT LAKE CITY — After the Utah Legislature passed a bill on Friday, Utah moved a step closer to arming school employees — not just teachers and principals. But do armed guards make a school environment safer? The lawmaker behind the bill says yes.

2021 study conducted by researchers from the University at Albany and RAND examined data from U.S. schools between 2014 and 2018 to evaluate the impact of school resource officers, or SROs.

We find that SROs effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools, but do not prevent gun-related incidents. We also find that SROs intensify the use of suspension, expulsion, police referral and arrest of students. These increases in disciplinary and police actions are consistently largest for Black students, male students and students with disabilities,” read the study.

 

A second study also researched armed school officials and mass shootings in US schools from 1980 to 2019.

The data suggest no association between having an armed officer and deterrence of violence in these [133 total cases],” the study concluded, adding, “An armed officer on the scene was the number one factor associated with increased casualties after the perpetrators’ use of assault rifles or submachine guns.”

The authors of the second study acknowledged they were limited by “reliance on public data, lack of data on community characteristics and inability to measure deterred shootings [nonevents].”

Arming school workers

Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, sponsored a bill that allows school employees, other than faculty, to volunteer as armed guards.

His bill cleared the Legislature and now awaits the governor’s signature to become law in Utah.

“We are in a dramatically different scenario than anything remotely related to 1980 that we’re dealing with right now,” Wilcox said.

He said he toured a high school in Parkland, Florida. It’s where Nikolas Cruz opened fire on fellow students and staff in 2018. On that day Cruz killed 17 and injured 17, three of whom were faculty members.

It became the deadliest mass shooting at a high school in U.S. history.

“[Parkland] was one of the greatest failures of armed security that we’ve ever seen. That school resource officer [Scot Peterson] stood outside for 41 minutes before he went, and the [shooting] was over in 3 minutes and 51 seconds,” he said.

“Because he froze, he didn’t do it. He didn’t have the courage to go and do what he had to do to end the threat. There were others that did,” Wilcox added.

“The three slain faculty members] went in without anything to defend themselves or to save those kids. So they lost their lives because they weren’t protected because we didn’t allow something there. That school now has three full-time school resource officers and six guardians,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox said one of the more important requirements in his bill is collecting school safety data. The bill also requires officials to report the data. 

Under his companion school safety measure, HB014, a threat by a student against a school, staff or other students will not be ignored.

“When a child or anyone really makes a significant threat now, makes a threat to kill her classmates or someone else targets a school that will now be a second-degree felony. (It) will require suspension or expulsion and a reintegration plan that follows that in order to come back,” Wilcox said.

Related: Utah lawmakers pass two school security bills

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Utah lawmaker discusses arming school workers