They aren't police officers but a Colorado school district will soon have the same weapons carried by law enforcement. The Douglas County School District purchased 10 semi-automatic assault rifles for its armed patrol division.
The $12,300 spent on guns and equipment came out of the school's security budget. The firearms are made by Bushmaster but district officials declined to comment on the specific model or magazine capacity.
"I can say from lessons learned and looking at all the situations that have happened across the country with shootings that having the correct tools, having the long rifles have helped out in situations," said Rich Payne, Director of Safety and Security for Douglas County Schools. He continued, "It's unfortunate but this is where we have come to."
According to the district, all eight armed security officers have law enforcement experience and already carry handguns. They will undergo 20 hours of training with the sheriff's department before the guns are deployed. The districts expects some of those guns will be handed out this month.
"We would only deploy them under the same policy that the sheriff's department currently would deploy them, if there was an incident within one of our schools," said Payne.
Denver7, ABC15's sister station in Colorado, learned that some school board members learned of the purchase on Facebook or by watching the news. One board member said the superintendent promised a summary and explanation as soon as possible.
Another board member, Wendy Vogel, said her calls to the school's communications division went unanswered Monday.
"We’ve got to keep our kids safe and we’ve got to keep our staff and community safe but in my opinion that’s the role of law enforcement it’s not the role of a public school district," said Vogel.
Vogel said she wished the board had an opportunity to discuss the purchase because it could be seen as controversial.
School board president Meghann Silverthorn said she was aware of the decision. She said discussions about improving school security began last summer. She went on to explain the purchase did not go before the board because it was less than $75,000.
"If someone is coming at our kids with deadly force then it should be met with the same deadly force," said Silverthorn.
The district's head of security, Payne, spent 25 years in law enforcement and retired from the Colorado Springs Police Department. He said the decision to buy guns was based in part of the district's sheer size, totaling 900 square miles. It is comprised of 86 schools and 76,000 students.
"One of my officers on patrol may be the first officer at the school. I want to make sure... if he is the first officer there, that he is prepared and has all the right tools he needs to keep everyone safe and secure," Payne stated.
During the Monday afternoon news conference, Payne said he felt it was important for his officers to have the same tools and resources as other law enforcement officers.
"We currently train with the sheriff's department with our handguns. We have to qualify twice a year," Payne said. "We have to do eight hours of active gunman training a year," said Payne.
The armed school officers currently train with the sheriff''s department to be able to carry handguns. They have to qualify twice a year.
"This is another way for the Douglas County Sheriff's office and the Douglas County School district to keep the community safe," said Sgt. Lori Bronner, who oversees school resources officers and is a spokesperson with the Douglas County Sheriff's office.
Cherry Creek School District spokeswoman Tustin Amole said its security staff is not armed.
"We've had discussions about having long-guns available for SROs," school resource officers who work for different local law enforcement agencies within the school district, Amole said. "Because often (resource officers) keep those weapons in their cars, there's been a discussion about having them in a place inside the school where they could access them more quickly in an emergency."
"There's a lot of to consider," Amole stressed. "You have to first have a very safe way to store these weapons so that not just any students or anyone else can get to them."
The discussion has been going on for part of this year and no decision has been made, she added.
Cherry Creek officials meet with local law enforcement and fire agencies monthly to discuss their constantly-evolving safety and security plan.
"We're always looking for ways that we can improve it," Amole said
Denver Public Schools spokesman Will Jones said, according to the district's Department of Safety Chief Mike Eaton, "We do not have any long rifles, in part because of our close working relationship with the Denver Police Department."
DPD provides the district with 15 schools resource officers who work at schools.
The school district does have 32 patrol officers and supervisors who are armed with handguns, Jones said. The armed officers are constantly patrolling the school district's campuses. The district also has unarmed safety officers who are based at all middle and high schools.
Has the district considered arming its security officers with long rifles, as well?
"We are always looking at opportunities to improve our response and ensure our communities are safe," Eaton said. "At this time, we are not pursuing long guns but would not rule out future consideration."