WAMU 88.5 : Morning Edition

Virginia Debates Putting Armed Guards In Schools

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Members of a Virginia task force are considering a proposal to put an armed resource officer at every school. About 47 percent of Virginia schools currently have school resource officers, mostly high schools and middle schools.

One proposal now under consideration by a special task force created by Gov. Bob McDonnell would recommend the hiring of more than 1,000 new officers. 

"I think the security resource officers are important. We have them in a lot of our schools here in Arlington," says Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), a member of the task force. "But I'm talking to principals who don't have them, and they don't have them for a reason,  because they don't think they are necessary."

Hope is concerned members will endorse the effort to put the officers — known as SROs — at every school.

"I fear that's the direction they are going, not that I oppose more SROs. I do think, however, there are probably more important things given that we have a finite amount of money," he says.

If the proposed positions are all full-time, the estimated cost to the general fund in the first year would be $134 million. That statewide standardized program would replace the current patchwork approach. Currently, some of the officers are armed while others are not; some are sworn officers, while others are not.

"It varies from place to place," says State Sen. George Barker (D-Fairfax County). "Some places they are police officers, and other places they are simply a security guard police officer who is not a member of the police department."

Barker, who is also a member of the task force, has introduced legislation that would facilitate the hiring of retired police officers to work as school resource officers. "We worked out an arrangement so that they could work as school resource officers without so that they could work as school resource officers without it impacting the retirement system," he says.

The task force is expected to issue its recommendations by the end of January.

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