The following editorial appeared in the Hickory (N.C.) Daily Record on Thursday.
The idea of putting police officers in schools — recently voiced by Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association — is not new. It's worked well in North Carolina.
The law enforcement officers we have in our schools — we call them school resource officers — are mediators, mentors, counselors and security personnel rolled into one. Our schools are safer and the relationship between officers and students are better because of them. If students, teachers and school personnel have been negatively affected by resource officers' presence, we have not been able to discern it.
They are not, as many in the news have misrepresented LaPierre's call, simply armed guards toting guns and prowling the halls.
Neither have we seen emotional trauma inflicted on our youth and general population because of armed security in airports, sports venues, shopping malls and government offices.
We are most familiar with resource officers in our three Catawba County school systems. They have performed well and interacted well with the students. Fortunately, they have not had to face the extreme crisis that befell Newtown Elementary School or Columbine High. We hope they never do, but it is reassuring that our resource officers have been trained for emergencies and our communications network assures rapid response.
Some of our schools have main entrances that could foil or at least delay an assault with a car. We have rules in place about using doors other than the main entrance. Our schools can be locked down in an instant. Staff, teachers and students know what to do in a lockdown.
That doesn't mean we, and the rest of the nation, should not address school security. Reassessing codes of secure conduct at school is not unreasonable. We're confident administrators and authorities are looking closely to see if improvements can be made. Not having resource officers in schools is not an option locally.
We do not consider those officers as a mark of a gun-mad society. Rather, it's a natural, positive step toward ensuring our children's safety. It's a step that became obvious after Oklahoma City, Columbine, Sept. 11 and other incidents where children were threatened and killed. We strive to have a secure society. In every instance where security has been increased, trained personnel with guns are part of the solution.
We grapple with the dilemma of how to keep weapons out of the hands of violent criminals and people whose judgment has been impaired by mental illness. We note that millions of gun owners do not intimidate others or commit violent crimes, and that a small percentage of people with guns kill. Why is a legitimate and at times unanswerable question. We cannot answer one without answering the other.
We object to arming teachers and school staff as has been suggested in some jurisdictions in other states. Teachers should teach. Even if qualified, a teacher should not be responsible for instruction and security. Combining these duties dilute the primary mission of a teacher and does not supply the proactive mindset of a law enforcement officer dedicated to security.
Our resource officers do not stand guard at the door. But they are prepared. They are mobile. Communication is virtually instantaneous. Let the teachers teach and stick with their students in an emergency.
North Carolina permits having public safety officers in schools. Put one in every school.