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Sunday, Dec 21, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns
COLUMN

Armed elementary school guards a sign of scary times

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Elementary school students should spend their days learning ABCs and the basics of math. They should laugh, and share, and draw funny pictures that they show later to mom and dad.

They should never have to be afraid at school.

We know too well, though, that the first priority in any school is to keep the children safe from maniacs. That can mean taking steps that never would have been considered.

So, while the idea of armed officers patrolling Hillsborough County’s elementary schools is creepy on many levels, it’s also prudent. It is pathetic that school administrators had to do this, but what choice did they have?

There are too many examples of the horror a deranged person can inflict at any of our nation’s schools. As a community with the nation’s eighth-largest school district, we can’t just hope it will never happen here.

That’s why the school board rightly hired 20 new mobile community officers over the summer to increase security at the county’s elementary schools. When added to the 19 already in place, that sounds like a lot.

It really isn’t.

As Erin Kourkounis reported in Tuesday’s Tampa Tribune, officer Quentinlee Morgan, for instance, will rotate among six South Tampa schools for now.

The plan is to have an officer in place at each of the county’s 145 elementary schools in four years; every high school and middle school is already covered. It eventually will cost $4.5 million, which is a lot of money for sure. But what’s the choice?

The officers certainly look the part. Morgan openly wears his .40-caliber semi-automatic handgun, carries a couple of radios and dresses in what most people would assume is a police uniform (it isn’t, but it looks impressive).

“We’re not looking for the next mass shooting,” Morgan told Kourkounis. “We’re not trying to take kids to jail. We’re child advocates.”

Uh ...

Actually, the main reason for having armed officers in the schools is to prevent the next mass shooting. I can think of no better form of child advocacy, even though asking one person trying to cover six schools to be in the right place when chaos breaks out is wishful thinking at best.

Even when there is an officer in every school, it’s still just one person trying to cover a large building. I know the drawbacks.

I also know the reality.

If there were an attack on one of the elementary schools like the one that happened at Sandy Hook, no one would be asking how much it cost to put a security officer in place; they would wonder why there weren’t more. Unfortunately, that’s how we have to think these days.

Maybe having these officers in place will have some side benefits. If you’ve ever been around the front office of a school, you understand how rude and unreasonable some parents can be. The sight of an officer and his trusty sidearm may help calm that down just a bit.

It also can’t hurt if students see the officer is friendly and there to protect them. That can go a long way toward helping them view police differently as they grow.

However, none of that is the real reason why our schools, at the urging of Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, put these officers in place.

There are too many kooks and cranks in this world, filled with rage that makes sense only to them.

The schools have to be safe. School officials have to make sure of that, all the while praying one of these misfits never shows up at one of Hillsborough’s schools. Either way, this is money well spent.

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