Schools need police officers in the 21st century

By Daniel Dunkle | Jan 10, 2019

Many of you will remember the old '70s song, "Stuck in the Middle with You" by Stealers Wheel.

I think that expression captures what it is like for middle-class, moderate working people in this country. We are constantly caught up in a debate between two groups of ideological extremists, one on the right and one on the left.

It's been about 20 years since Columbine, and we have since seen news reports over and over in which some person, who is either evil or crazy or hurting enough, goes around a school (or office or church or nightclub) shooting people indiscriminately. This person almost always ends up dead themselves, either shot by the cops or his own hand. These events leave in their wake shattered families, broken communities, hollow-eyed parents. Seldom is there any sense of justice. No trial. No answers as to why.

And for 20 years, we have consistently done nothing about this, because we are paralyzed between our two parties' competing worldviews.

One possible response that has been used in other countries when these things have happened is to increase gun control. I supported this idea originally. It makes sense to ban assault rifles and semi-automatic and automatic weapons that can fire round after round with only the briefest of pauses to reload. These are weapons of war, not what is needed for simple home protection or hunting. There was a logic to that. Certainly increased background checks and closing loopholes such as private sales seemed like good commonsense measures.

I never saw this as the entire solution. Because for me, with two kids in public schools, the only real solution is to increase security at schools, but I thought gun control could be a step in the right direction.

However, I have come to grips with the fact that we are not going to see any significant gun control in America in my lifetime.

If we didn't do it after Sandy Hook, we're not going to do it.

Americans have a different relationship with guns than those in other countries. It's ingrained in our DNA. Ours is a nation born in rebellion. And the 2nd Amendment is there because the crafters of the Constitution had needed arms to win our independence.

Gun rights advocates believe any compromise, even on background checks, sends us down the slippery slope to wide-ranging gun bans. And to give them credit where credit is due, I suppose there is something to be said for a society in which the government is more afraid of its people than ithe people are of government.

Even if we banned all guns tomorrow, there would still be hundreds of millions of guns in this country now being bought and sold through a black market.

As a pragmatist, I have accepted that this is how it is, but I still have that tricky problem of having two children in public schools.

To me, it makes sense to put armed police officers in every school and keep them on hand every minute that school is in session. I want them to be trained and I want them ready to return fire.

But the other side, the left, has a problem with this. They argue that any gun, even a gun in the hands of a trained police officer, increases danger. They also are concerned about the students living in a police state, where they will have increased accountability for drug and other offenses.

I don't think those who raise these concerns are entirely wrong. I have no problem with police officers and school officials dealing with drug and substance offenses, though I feel the level of accountability that a person faces when they are young should not be too high. Zero tolerance with teens is silly. What teen doesn't require tolerance? I certainly did.

But I have known a lot of local police officers. They are not the people you are seeing in the national news doing things wrong. We have good local people who are part of this community who care about our kids and who have handled very tough situations well. I have seen stories where local police managed to keep anyone from being hurt, and would argue that in some other parts of the country, someone would have ended up shot.

We cannot hide our heads in the sand and just hope that it does not happen here. We have had threats to our schools. We need to take action to protect our children.

All this is to say that I support RSU 13 hiring school resource officers and would support any increase in security that helps keep my children safer.

I wish we could go back to the way things were before Pandora's box was opened. When I was a kid, my biggest concerns in high school were what movie I was seeing on Friday and whether I was going to pass algebra.

However, we have to deal with the reality of today as adults with clear eyes, and we have to do what is possible and pragmatic even if it is not what is ideal.

We're going to have to make a compromise and add security to avoid staying stuck in the middle forever.

Daniel Dunkle is editor of The Courier-Gazette and The Camden Herald, and author of the novel, "The Scrimshaw Worm." He lives in Rockland and can be reached at ddunkle@villagesoup.com.

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