Should Your School Resource Officers Carry Weapons?

While most of the safety concerns in the education sector these days revolve around protecting staff, students and visitors from virus transmission, the other types of risk facing schools and campuses have not disappeared. Violence on school grounds, including school shootings, will continue to affect the education community and take a toll on the peace of mind of students and their families.

Many schools have hired school resource officers to help protect teachers, students and staff. Some of these individuals are former law enforcement officers; others are certified security guards or private citizens. While there is much discussion about the roles and responsibilities of school resource officers, one frequent question is whether or not they should carry firearms or other weapons while on duty.

Here are a few factors that can help you decide if your school or campus should arm your school resource officers.

Check state laws regarding armed school personnel
First and foremost, you need to research your state laws regarding armed security personnel on educational campuses. Some states allow for school resource officers to be armed on a school property, and other states’ laws prohibit civilians from being armed on a school campus. No matter what your security objectives are, you are exposing your school to risk if you are on the wrong side of the law when it comes to protection.

Consider what kind of training is required for school resource officers
Training requirements and licensing requirements vary from state to state. Some states oblige school resource officers to carry a certain class of license. They may also need to go through annual training to maintain the license and certificate to carry a firearm. These regulations are in place to protect schools, students, staff and the security officers themselves. By ensuring that your guards are trained, you can help to minimize risk – not only during any type of incident, but every day that people are present on the property.

Should Your School resource officers be Law Enforcement Officers?
When you hire current or retired law enforcement officers as school resource officers, you can be more confident that they have received extensive training in the use of weapons during the course of their employment. Even so, you need to confirm that they take whatever tests or certifications they need to remain qualified on an annual basis to carry a firearm.

You should also take into account whether or not you already have any off-duty police officers on your school grounds or campus. While some local police departments make officers available to schools in their jurisdiction, other departments are understaffed and cannot spare any additional officers for this purpose. In those cases, arming a security guard may be one of your only options for armed protection on site. Traditionally, armed school resource officers cost less per hour than a law enforcement officer, so it may be a more cost-effective way of protecting your school or educational campus.

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Insurance and risk
One of the most important factors to address is the risk and liability that comes with arming your security officers. The presence of a gun is no guarantee that you will be able to de-escalate a situation, or deter violent individuals from committing crimes. Plus, educational facilities and other crowded public areas often are not practical for an officer to discharge a gun, because he or she will be increasing the risk of casualties. Law enforcement officers train diligently to evaluate the pros and cons of discharging a firearm in any scenario, an extremely difficult situation even with proper training.
You will also want to give consideration to the insurance policies required for school security staff.

When a firearm is discharged, the potential resulting insurance claims are huge and often exceed the normal insurance limits. Because of this, it is important to maintain a much higher limit of liability when you choose to arm your guards. You must be prepared for the possibility that if someone is wrongfully shot, they may sue both the officer and your school, who employs the officer. The potential for a costly settlement should not be overlooked in making your decisions.

Making your decision
Each school or educational campus is different. Your school administrators should weigh the benefits vs. the risks and liabilities of arming security officers before you make a decision.

Some schools may decide to go with a combination of a few off-duty police officers and armed school resource officers, while other schools may decide to go with all off-duty police officers or all armed school resource officers.

This is a decision that should be discussed with owners and/or administrators of private and public schools (all types of educational campuses) as well as legal representatives for each.

One final thought on this topic is the psychological impact that arming school resource officers could potentially have on the administrators, teachers, students, and the parents. This should be discussed with your entire school community, making sure that all stakeholders know their thoughts have been heard. Some may disagree strongly with the idea of bringing weapons into the education environment. Others may feel more safe and comfortable knowing that there are armed security officers on campus, helping everyone to concentrate on their primary mission: education.