Schools would get more officer protection via two Meadows bills

U.S. Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of N.C.

U.S. Representative Mark Meadows has two bills to expand school resource officers. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Meadows introduced the two bills on March 6, in the U.S. House. His latest Protect America’s Schools Act adds $1.5 million to the Community Oriented Policing Services’ School Resource Officer (SRO) program across the nation. The third-term congressman’s first such act was in 2013, as a freshman.

His other bill, the Veterans Securing Schools Act, authorizes a state or local agency to more easily cut through red tape to hire military veterans to serve as school resource officers stationed at schools. The co-sponsor is Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.).

The two bills together helps “provide schools both adequate resources and trained personnel, to protect our kids,” Meadows stated. Amidst a “defining moment,” he added, “we have an opportunity to come together and develop common-sense solutions to safeguard our children in school.”

The final product of screening and training is to select and equip proficient professional protectors, Henderson County Sheriff Charlie McDonald told The Tribune at his county’s GOP convention March 10. The sheriff applauds the Protect act’s funding, above all. Any non-staff officers may need to be volunteer, hinging on federal and local funding.

McDonald has long publicly preferred his own trained force to staff SROs, over training others. But if the county opts also for others as SROs, then he prefers those with law enforcement or military experience over those without it. Critical is ability to alertly, calmly and safely handle a gun in a stressful emergency and call for assistance.

Skill and fitness are among standards that need to be met for SRO, he said. These determinants could be instead of an age limit on veterans and other applicants, he said when asked about such limits. The sheriff told The Tribune four years ago, in his last reelection campaign, about reservations about ideas then to go beyond his own deputies to staff SROs.

He noted it can be much more challenging than realized to find a retired law agent still up to the physical (i.e. eye-hand coordination, reaction time) standards of serving as a school-wide protector and dealing with youth rebelliousness.

This month, he noted planning whether and how to train and implement veterans and former police/deputies as SROs is steadily evolving amidst so far “low level” talks between sheriff, police and county and school officials and staffs.

Many area school districts’ officials and school boards have discussed expanding resource officers to more schools, as they scramble to find and set aside funds to do that in phases.

For instance, in Henderson County, several school board members and candidates call for resource officers in elementary schools there. They were first in all four high schools in the county, then some middle and elementary schools.

Sheriff McDonald, among others wants all schools in his county to have an armed guard. Sixteen threats of violence against schools — mostly high schools — in Henderson County have been made in the last month alone, officials noted. This is since the fatal shooting of 17 people by lone shooter Nikolas Cruz at his alma mater high school in Parkland, Fla. on Valentine’s Day.

District Attorney Greg Newman said local cases are typically prank bomb threats, triggering student evacuations and often panic. “They say it (threat) for the shock value. They might speak out of anger.”

Yet he said he appreciates schools and law officers taking these threats seriously, and using precautions. “In the culture of the times we’re in” nationwide, Newman said, “you have to take it seriously. People get frightened,” and safety is at stake.

“These cases have been fully investigated. In one case, the student did not seem to have the means to carry out the threat. Once we had the full facts, we realized it wasn’t a serious risk and dealt with it appropriately (more leniently).” He noted “twenty years ago, they’d get sent to the principal’s office” for making a threat, but now it is taken more seriously.

And when weapons are found, he noted in contrast, the law comes down hard on perpetrators, Newman said. “The kids don’t understand the consequences, when a conviction goes onto their records. It handicaps them trying to get jobs, or into the military.” Thus in making threats, “they do so at their own peril.”

Rep. Meadows sees stronger school security as an alternative to stronger gun control, which he said is “not the answer” in part as it does not increase a school’s defense against attack.

To beef up school security nationwide, Pres. Donald Trump wants states to pay to train and arm a few select teachers or other staffers in a school who volunteer for security duty. Trump sought “rigorous firearms training” for teachers, ideally most athletic ones with “natural talent — like hitting a baseball.”

The plan got bad marks by the National Education Association. Locally, many teachers and students are gun-shy about teachers having to police schools on top of instructing.

The president and local congressman agree that making a school less of an easy target can deter a vindictive lone wolf gunman or bomber or terrorist planning an attack.

Meadows said “the best and most effective path forward, I believe, is one that safeguards our schools from becoming ‘soft targets’ — or areas with little to stand in the way of someone with bad intentions.”

Pres. Trump trumpeted armed defense in schools, when speaking to media at a conference with teachers, students and parents. “A gun-free zone to a maniac is ‘let’s go in and let’s attack, because bullets aren’t coming back at us.’”

Meadows noted he consulted sheriffs and officers from across western N.C.’s 11th House District, and thanked their “input and expertise” on school security issues.

N.C. Sheriffs’ Association Pres. Carson Smith, the Pender County sheriff, cites a “clear consensus” among sheriffs statewide backing as a “critical component” assigning certified and trained law enforcement officers to each school as school resource officers.

Transylvania County Sheriff David Mahoney noted bonds of “trust” and cooperation form year-round between resource officers and students.

Sheriff McDonald created Adopt-a-School, greatly increasing officers’ school contacts during shifts. They typically walk in halls to make a presence, and talk with teachers. He said dropping in unannounced is a key tactic, the sheriff said.

Sheriff McDonald was part of a recent school safety roundtable that Pres. Trump hosted in the White House. McDonald praised Meadows’ “unwavering support for securing our communities” and in helping “local law enforcement in delivering a safer school environment for our children.” He said Meadows has done so in the five years since introducing the first schools act in ’13.

The sheriff said he also supports Meadows’ current bills. He calls the supplemental funding bill a “great step to ensure that our local governments have access to the funding they need, should they determine that increased officer presence is one facet of the strategy they want to adopt.”

The latest in a serious of school shootings sparked widespread calls for stricter gun control. Most targeted is the automatic assault rifle, and the “bump stock” accessory that makes a semi-automatic gun fully automatic for more rapid and continuous firing.

Att. Gen. Jeff Sessions a week and half ago proposed a regulation on bump stocks. It must get Office of Management and Budget approval, then public hearing comments are weighed before it can be adopted.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott banned possession of bump stocks earlier this month. He raised the age for buying long guns to 21, and imposed a waiting period of three days for buying them that can be a cooling period for a person suddenly enraged into violence. U.S. Senate Democrats want an outright ban on assault weapons, Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted.

Many gun rights groups oppose crackdowns, and are concerned any could lead to a domino effect of tighter rules against more basic guns used in hunting or home protection. An old gun rights adage is that law-abiding citizens are restricted in defending themselves, while criminal perpetrators are apt to bypass gun laws by stealing guns or buying them on the black market. Gun control advocates counter making it tougher should deter some potential criminals.

Some are very leery of the subjective powers in Trump’s call for state to authorize “extreme risk protection orders” (ERPO) as California and now Florida have done. These temporary restraining orders can result in police entering a home and taking a person’s guns away, and forbid a person deemed dangerous from buying guns.

Even an NRA official has backed ERPOs to nip violence in the bud, though with emphasis on burden of proof. The ERPO must be sought in court, by police or family members arguing on psychiatric and other grounds that the person is a significant risk to harm oneself or others if possessing a gun. Federal law forbids convicted felons from owning guns, and many states do as well.

Trump endorsed a bi-partisan bill to strengthen accuracy and impact of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sponsored the bill.

But after meeting with NRA leaders, Trump is backing off of his earlier plan to raise the minimal age from 18 to 21 (as with a handgun) to buy an (automatic rifle) AR-15 or similar assault rifle. A policy dilemma is that such a gun is among those used in hunting, though also is a gun of choice for rare but periodic civilian mass shootings.

Last week Pres. Trump launched the Federal Commission on School Safety, which Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will chair.

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