The somber aftermath of the horrific school slaughter in Connecticut has generated considerable heat but, so far, not much light. Among the proposals under discussion are reforms in the use of anti-psychotic meds, crackdowns on assault weapons, tighter gun-registration laws and putting more guns in schools by arming teachers, principals and, presumably, custodians and gardeners as well — because nothing ensures a safe environment like putting more firepower into people’s hands.
Short of turning our schools into mini-fortresses, with moats, drawbridges and bulletproof glass, the only idea I’ve heard that might limit the carnage when the next heavily armed wacko decides to pursue infamy through mass murder is the proposal to have an armed cop at each school. Granted, the people who carry out these kinds of crimes are not always playing with a full deck and might not be deterred from their rendezvous with destiny by the presence of a pistol-packing lawman, but, at a minimum, a trained officer on the scene might be able to at least minimize the harm by taking out the shooter as quickly as possible.
It probably sounded like a great idea to recently re-elected assemblyman Richard Carrillo when someone whispered in his ear that he should sponsor a bill to turn school cops into full-fledged, Class 1 officers. Such a bill would give school cops all the powers that a Metro officer has — the power to arrest people, write citations and enforce the law even while away from school property. Sounds swell.
And then a madman went berserk in Newtown.
No offense to Assemblyman Carrillo, but the proposal to turn school cops into full-powered policemen has little if anything do to do with the safety of our schools and might even cause Clark County School District schools to be less secure than they are today. How so?
The impetus for the proposed change comes from the school cops themselves — not because they want to be better trained, better prepared or subject to higher standards so they can be ready if trouble visits a CCSD campus, but because they want to do all the other things that Metro cops can do. In particular, they want to be able to write traffic tickets.
Some of you may recall the flap earlier this year when news organizations caught CCSD officers writing traffic tickets, in some cases pulling over speeders on the freeway. The last time I checked, there were no local schools located on any freeways. There was no question the school cops were operating far outside their jurisdiction and miles beyond what the public expects them to do … namely, to protect kids and staff members at area schools. Legal experts at the Nevada Legislature agreed the school cops went too far.
So what’s the solution to this conundrum? Why, it’s to give the school cops the legal power to write more tickets, for, say, illegal U-turns or jaywalking, even if the crimes occur in galaxies far, far away from actual schools. And just who, pray tell, will be protecting the aforementioned schools whenever Officer Barney is pulling over a hot blonde in a convertible to write her up for not wearing a seat belt? That’s where things get sticky for Carrillo’s proposal.
Having investigated quite a few news stories in recent years focused on the CCSD police, I can say the department has plenty of top-notch people who have devoted their professional lives to the safety of local schools and students. But I can also say, with no hesitation, that there is a strong contingent of knuckleheads working for the department, some of whom would be hard-pressed to make the cut if they were to be held to the same standards as a Metro officer. I suspect that a bill to provide them with more police power would not include an equivalent increase in achievement standards or accountability.
It was also less than a year ago that the CCSD police chief resigned from the job in disgrace because of an explosive scandal involving school cops boozing it up with teenagers. A now-infamous party attended by several school cops and around 20 teenagers ended in bloodshed when one of the teens who was fed booze at the party drove away and killed UNLV grad student Angela Peterson. An apparent coverup was instituted within the school cops, and although police chief Phil Arroyo assured all of his cronies that the whole thing would blow over, it led to Arroyo’s ouster.
And the scandal is not over. Attorney Mark Cook, on behalf of Angela Peterson’s parents, is still pursuing a massive lawsuit against CCSD school police and several individuals who allegedly participated in the coverup. He has been busy taking depositions and gathering evidence for what could be another major embarrassment for the department. I asked him what he thinks about school cops being given more power, especially in light of recent events.
“In light of the tragedy in Connecticut, any effort to take school police’s focus out of the schools seems to be a dangerously blind look at current events,” Cook said. “My clients empathize with the victims’ families like few people can. We think there are enough distractions within CCSD. Aren’t these guys already too distracted playing beer pong with kids to do their current duties?”
I’ve read a bit about Assemblyman Carrillo’s working-class upbringing and engaging personal history. He sounds like a good guy who likely waded into this issue with the best intentions, but someone is feeding him info that is not only bad, but badly timed. If someone wants to introduce a bill to provide for an armed CCSD officer on every school campus, I, for one, would love to hear a debate about the merits of such an idea. Over time, maybe we could tighten hiring standards and oversight of the school police to make sure the good cops stay and the not-so-good cops move on, and then maybe consider an eventual change.
But to just hand this same bunch a lot of extra authority that has nothing to do with keeping students safe from harm makes zero sense. It didn’t make sense before the Connecticut tragedy. It makes less sense now.
GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.