A smart direction on school safety

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Armed guards patrol banks, ballparks and airports. It is rarely argued they are out of place in those venues.

Schools are different. They are places of learning, places for children, our nation’s most precious resource. Years after Columbine, months after Sandy Hook, talk of placing armed security personnel in schools evokes a broad range of reactions.

If done wrong, such a move could be disruptive and create fear among students. But if done right, there is little to lose and perhaps, lives to be saved.

We see a partnership in Douglas County between the school district and local law enforcement agencies as an example of a way to bolster security while allowing for an unfettered learning environment.

Beginning with the next school year in August, plainclothes officers from the sheriff’s office and three police departments will patrol the county’s public elementary and middle schools. At the high school level, armed resource officers have been a presence on campus for years.

A safety committee’s work on this new program began shortly after December’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. It is a multifaceted plan that incorporates security measures beyond the presence of officers, including improved screening of visitors and enhanced use of technology.

But the move to place armed officers on campuses, announced May 30, is what has made headlines. That’s understandable. Creating a police state at our schools is not something anyone should want. To be clear, though, that’s not what is being planned in Douglas County.

The School Marshal Program will see deputies and police officers assigned to schools in nearby proximity, and the officers will be a daily presence at the schools. The plan is to allow for greater ability to respond to an incident, as well as be a deterrent to those with ill intent.

“We’re not aware of any other program like this in the country,” said Elizabeth Fagen, superintendent of the Douglas County School District.

Strengthening community bonds is among the most laudable elements of the program. Douglas County’s safety committee has representatives from law enforcement agencies, the school district and various community members.

Some may question whether the program will be worth its price tag — at least $500,000 on the part of the school district and an undisclosed amount absorbed by the law enforcement agencies. It’s a fair question, but we’re not prepared to set a dollar limit on children’s safety.

Douglas County is among the most affluent areas of the entire nation, and the program’s cost may make it prohibitive for many school districts and communities to fully implement. But the root ideas of a multi-pronged approach and community cooperation are worthy of serious consideration in Colorado and around the country.