More than six dozen active or retired Stow and Munroe Falls police officers are now authorized to carry concealed weapons while off-duty on school property.
The Stow-Munroe Falls Board of Education unanimously passed a resolution Jan. 28 permitting a list of 73 active or retired police to carry their weapons on school grounds as a cost-effective means to enhance security.
While schools are weapon-free zones with few exceptions (on-duty police carrying out official duties, for example, are allowed to carry weapons on school property), a clause in the Ohio Revised Code permits school boards to adopt legislation on their own allowing off-duty police to carry concealed weapons on school grounds and at school functions.
According to the legislation, 73 individuals with police backgrounds now have written authorization to "carry a firearm and any operationally necessary law enforcement equipment within the school while they are off duty pursuant to the ORC ... and the Gun Free Schools Act."
"We know that this adds another layer of protection for everyone in the event that a crisis may occur," said Superintendent Dr. Russ Jones. "And most people will not know who they are. If someone wants to take a chance to create a bad scene for people, they don't know if there's armed officers there or not, and I think that could work as a deterrent as well."
Board members lauded the cost-free measure as a proactive way to address security.
"It's one of the things we can do to help ourselves," said Board member Rod Armstrong.
Jones noted the idea originated from Stow Police Chief Louis Dirker and Munroe Falls Police Chief Rick Myers.
"If a terrible instance of violence occurred and one of our departments' officers were present, wouldn't you want him or her to be capable of responding immediately and possibly save the lives of people? We're the good guys," said Myers. "Our officer may be the only one able to stand in the gap between the citizens and a bad guy bent on doing harm."
Myers noted people are still always encouraged to call 911 in the event of a crisis, but the presence of an armed officer at a school function could mean the difference between life and death if a hostile person is present.
"Seconds count in these events, and if an officer does nothing more than cause the bad guy to run for cover or flee, that represents time that potential victims would have the benefit of doing the same," Myers explained. "The moments between the incident and actual arrival of multiple police units are critical. An immediate response by a trained professional could make the difference in survival for many persons."
Jones said the intent is to have the off-duty officers present at school functions, such as sporting events, so they can provide an armed response if one is necessary.
Police are hired to provide security at especially crowded events like football and basketball games. Events where there may not be a visible, armed presence will benefit the most from an armed, authorized individual in attendance.
If one of those allowed to carry a concealed weapon is at a school event and armed, Jones said that person is expected to let school personnel know so a staff person would be aware of the armed presence.
"The community would not even be aware of the presence of these people because they would be dressed in civilian clothes and the firearm would be concealed," Myers said. "Yet, they could immediately respond with a level of expertise, judgment that has been assessed in a span of an entire career and certified by current standards. This is quality police protection that costs the taxpayer nothing."
Myers noted that he and Dirker recommend that the Board of Education review the roster of individuals permitted to carry concealed weapons on school property -- which will be submitted by the police departments -- annually.
"Police officers spend their careers protecting the community," Myers said. "To become a police officer requires a person to jump through a lot of screening hoops. These men and women are carefully selected, and they are the ones we should want present and capable of responding to a crisis."
The resolution's Jan. 28 adoption comes in the midst of an ongoing assessment of security in Stow and Munroe Falls schools and other public buildings being led by Stow Mayor Sara Drew.
"I'm pleased that the school Board approved off-duty police to carry concealed weapons on school property," Drew said. "The individuals who were approved by the Board are all people who have been entrusted with security of our community, so giving them permission to carry their weapons while in a school building is a natural extension of their responsibilities. I continue to support efforts by the schools to address security issues wherever possible as the task force continues it work."
Jones noted police have been provided a schedule of the schools' extracurricular activities so on-duty officers can patrol the areas and a provide a visible presence when possible.
Meanwhile, a push to have "100 percent" of school staff certified in ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate) techniques -- a nationally renowned program geared toward crisis response protocols -- was completed last week. Students will be trained similarly in February.
ALICE Training is supported by both Stow and Munroe Falls police departments.
"Training the school staff in ALICE techniques is valuable to keep the staff and students alert and aware of the potential of such incidents and to provide all persons with alternatives in the event of a crisis," Myers explained. "In the past, the only option presented to occupants of a school was to lockdown and hide. While this is a valuable option, it should not be the only option, and ALICE should cause a person caught in a crisis to think of other alternatives besides locking the door and hiding."
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