House Bill 1332 was signed into law last week. This would allow rural schools that can’t afford SRO’s the option to have a staff member trained as an armed first responder.

Our Malique Rankin joins us with a look at the concerns this bill is raising. School boards would have the opportunity to consider training a staff member as an armed first responder, if they felt this option made sense for their district. But, not all schools or law enforcement see this bill as a benefit.

Brian Christopherson; New Salem-Almont Superintendent: “For New Salem Almont, I feel, personally, its a poor option.”

Brian Christopherson is the superintendent of New Salem-Almont schools. 
He says House Bill 1332 leaves him with little comfort and even less options.

Brian Christopherson; New Salem-Almont Superintendent: “To me, I don’t know if it’d be feasible to find somebody who could meet all this training. Under this bill, they can’t supervise children. So that leaves very few of my staff left.”

Malique Rankin, KX News: “For New Salem-Almont schools, less than ten staff members would be eligible to be an armed first responder. And that’s if they opted to participate. I spoke with the Morton County Sheriff’s office, who say this bill raises concerns when law enforcement officers have to respond to schools.”

Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier: “We still have a concern of who this person is, and how to identify them if we are going into the school to respond to an incident.”

Brian Christopherson; New Salem-Almont Superintendent: “How are they going to know for sure who that person is? So that is a scary thought. Do we want law enforcement slowing down before coming into the building? I don’t think so, we want this coming as soon as they can and get in here.”

Sheriff Kirchmeier says for this bill to work, the schools and the sheriff’s office would need to work together so law enforcement could easily identify the armed first responder.

Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier: “There ain’t going to be a lot of time to ask questions before something happens.”

A concern that wouldn’t exist if schools had the funding to hire more resource officers.

Brian Christopherson; New Salem-Almont Superintendent: “I think the talk is going in the right direction, but I think the legislators need to understand, if they truly want to help make an impact, then provide that grant.”

Both the superintendent and the Morton County Sheriff said the best way lawmakers can help schools is to provide funding from the state. Through that funding, more school resource officers could be hired, eliminating the need to consider training staff members to conceal and carry on school grounds.

Morton County has already been taking steps to help the schools that can’t afford resource officers. For the past year and a half, the sheriff’s office has made it a practice to increase their presence in all of the county’s schools. Through these quick visits, officers can familiarize themselves with the layouts of the schools in case they are ever needed to respond to an emergency situation. We spoke with a sheriff’s deputy on how this improves response times.

David Tomlinson; MCSO Sheriff’s Deputy: “You know one of the big things that we do when we go to the schools is build that rapport with the students, staff, and administrators. That way, they get to see us, get to know us and vice versa. When a situation arises, we can feed off each other and respond in an appropriate manner.”

The New Salem-Almont Superintendent says either Morton County or Highway Patrol visits their schools nearly every day.