School board hears views on armed school guards

Rio Rancho Public Schools COO Mike Baker chatted with, from left, RRPS Safety and Security Executive Director Mike Padilla and security guards Don Mangin, Larry Tafoya and Vince Valdez before Thursday’s meeting.

Overall, it was hard to gauge a consensus of whether arming security guards in Rio Rancho schools was a good idea or bad idea, as applause followed every comment, pro or con, during a two-hour open forum Thursday evening in the Rio Rancho Public Schools district offices.

Unofficially, 34 people stood up to talk; 10 were in favor, 18 were opposed; and six either asked a question or didn’t reveal which side of the fence they were on.

Superintendent Sue Cleveland, noticing at least a dozen RRPS administrators and teachers amid the crowd, estimated at about 80, thanked them for attending and said the session had been scheduled partly to correct “misinformation that has circulated in the community.”

RRPS’s Chief Operating Officer, Mike Baker, a former Rio Rancho Police chief, opened the meeting with a review of active shooter incidents and other relevant data. On a video screen was a “slide” with the quote, “Trained officers carrying weapons can help prevent a shooting inside the school and a possible shooter from entering,” said by National School Study Council Executive Director Ronald Stephens.

Baker said FBI data showed there had been 52 active shooter incidents in schools from 2000-2017, 12 of which resulted in mass killings. Of the 52 incidents, 22 had occurred at high schools, 15 at institutes of higher learning, and six each in middle schools and elementary schools.

“Typically, high schools tend to be more of a target,” Baker said, noting the “normal” shooter is a 15- to 21-year-old male. Fifty-four percent of the shooters were apprehended, 39 percent died by their own hand and seven percent were killed by law enforcement.

“Active shooters have to be stopped — they don’t typically give up on their own,” he added, and they’re heavily armed with plenty of ammunition.

“We want to prevent a mass killing or any kind of shooting in our school system,” Baker said. “The shootings can happen anywhere in America including New Mexico, (Roswell and Aztec).”

Baker also thought it was important to point out that guns have been in Rio Rancho schools for at least 15 years, carried by as many as seven and as few as three school resource officers. SROs are Rio Rancho Police officers posted on campuses, regularly at CHS and RRHS.

Baker also emphasized the criteria for armed security guards, as far as physical and mental wellbeing, weapons carried and holstered, training in crisis prevention and intervention and biannual weapons certification. Once on campus, the firearm will be on the security guard 100 percent of the time; weapons are to be used only when an officer is in fear of his own life or another person’s.

Among the comments from speakers favoring arming the security guards: “It’s not a question of if (a shooting will occur), it’s when”; “Parents are not there in the schools (to keep children safe), security officers are”; “In Israel, they arm all the teachers”; and “It’s just part of school safety.”

Among the comments from those opposed to arming security guards: “My tax dollars pay for schools and I don’t want any of those dollars paying for guns”; “Armed guards would represent a challenge (to someone else armed)”; “More children die in gun accidents than school shootings”; “We are not a police state … safe to me does not mean guns in schools”; “Research shows more guns don’t make us safer”; “As a teacher, I would take a bullet for my kids”; “(This is a) rush to judgment … government by cable news”; and “(This) doesn’t make sense to me … there are a lot of things you can do on campuses to make them safer.”

Several folks also said the approximate $400,000 expected to be spent by RRPS for initiating the program would be better spent on textbooks, classroom needs and teacher salaries.

Baker said the school board could vote on arming security guards as soon as its next meeting, set for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 13. Following that, he said, if the measure is approved, will be applicant screening, staff training and implementation and deployment.

Parents of RRPS students will receive information on Thursday’s meeting, once it has been compiled, and again are welcomed to provide input.