A school safety bill for Franklin County would be “problematic” and would have statewide implications, Alabama’s Homeland Security chief said Tuesday.
Spencer Collier, director of the Alabama Department of Homeland Security, said he is worried about the concept of placing a lethal weapon in the hands of people at a school if they do not have full peace officer training.
“This bill is problematic,” he said. “From a law enforcement perspective, it presents a tactical nightmare.”
The original bill, which Gov. Robert Bentley vetoed March 4, would have made it voluntary for teachers to become reserve sheriff’s deputies or police officers, and put the responsibility of training and supervision on local law enforcement. That means those teachers would be armed.
State Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, of Red Bay, sponsored the bill. Morrow and fellow Franklin County Democratic legislator, Sen. Roger Bedford, of Russellville, have reintroduced the bill.
They met this week with law enforcement and school officials in the county and asked for input on the bill. Morrow said the bill could remain the same, continue with changes suggested from those officials or be dropped.
Collier said he respects the legislators’ goal of making schools safer, but disagreed with the approach. He said while it is a local bill, it has implications for Alabama.
Collier said he is worried about state liability in the event of a shooting involving an armed teacher, but Morrow said the bill declares the state immune from liability.
Collier said only state-trained law enforcement officers are authorized to carry weapons on a school campus.
“It’s not just a matter of taking someone and training someone to shoot,” Collier said.
He said prospective officers go through a 12-week academy training that includes instructions on when they have the constitutional right to use deadly force.
He said in 22 percent of the cases in which law enforcement officers are killed by a weapon, their own weapon was used against them.
“That adds another concern that could go from a bad situation to a horrible situation,” Collier said.
Jeremy King, Bentley’s communications director, said the lack of adequate training guidelines is the basis of the governor’s concern about the bill.
“Without more guidelines in the bill, we would be entrusting the life of a child to someone whose qualifications are currently unclear,” King said. “There needs to be greater specifics on the training for these people who would be protecting our children.”
Collier said relying on teachers could be a challenge because officers are tactically trained to enter an active-shooter situation with the sole mindset of finding and eliminating the threat. That means they do not evacuate the place or stop to assist anyone who is injured.
In addition, a major emergency such as a school shooting would bring in law enforcement officers from surrounding areas who would not know whether someone carrying a weapon is a teacher trained as a deputy or the shooter, Collier said.
In response, Morrow questions how long it would take for those law enforcement officers to arrive.
“In rural areas, everybody might be dead when the officer arrives because the school is so far away,” he said. “There might be a 20- to 30-minute response time. That’s the whole point.”
He said children are instructed in lock-down situations to remain in their classroom and wait.
“Wait for what?” he asked. “Rural schools can’t afford resource officers. Rural schools are 20 and 30 minutes away from response from deputies or police.
“Let’s give these kids and these employees a fighting chance. That’s all I’m saying.”
Morrow also pointed out his bill does not require schools and local law enforcement agencies to participate.
“It’s permissive only,” he said. “I have turned this over to the people who are affected by it.”
Bernie Delinski can be reached at 256-740-5739 or bernie.delinski@TimesDaily.com.
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