Hamilton County Sherriff Jim Hammond says arming teachers is not his first, second or even third choice as a means of keeping Hamilton County’s students safe, but he must consider every option.
Following the tragic events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Feb. 14, local law enforcement and educational officials have been re-evaluating the safety of Hamilton County’s students and how to address the possibility of violence in local public schools.
Hammond acknowledges that while every side of the political spectrum has offered ideas, the objective is clear: “We must protect our children and harden our schools against violence.”
Hammond adds he believes the best way to ensure local schools are safe is to have a trained P.O.S.T. (Peace Officer Standards and Training Council) certified School Resource Officer in each school. The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office has 31 SROs in 29 schools. “This is a good start, but it’s not enough,” Hammond says.
The problem boils down to funding, Hammond explains. Placing SROs in every local public school would require $4 million to $5 million in funding, he says, giving tax payers a significant burden to shoulder.
Alternatives include enhanced security and surveillance systems, newer schools designed with safe rooms and secure locations for students, bullet resistant windows, doors and locking devices – and giving teachers the opportunity to be armed.
The later would require not only a change to state law but would also require extensive P.O.S.T. compliant training with annual in-service training and exhaustive background checks, similar to those performed for law enforcement personnel.
Hammond says arming qualified volunteer teachers is not his “first, second or even third choice” but that he must consider all viable – and affordable – options for protecting local children and schools. “Funding is a serious issue for the HCSO,” Hammond points out. “My administration constantly works to find new ways to cut costs and do more with less.”
Regardless of the challenges, Hammond says he and his staff are committed to working with elected officials, law enforcement, the local school board, the Hamilton County Department of Education and parents and teachers to “find the best and most appropriate way to move forward and protect our children and our schools.”