Politics

December 22, 2012

Arming teachers is unsafe, Maine police say

Law enforcers say a proposal by a Maine lawmaker could actually increase the danger.

By David Hench dhench@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Arming teachers in response to the school shootings last week in Newtown, Conn., would not be a good way to make schools safer, public safety officials in Maine said Friday.

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A boy sits near the steps of a church a church before the memorial service for Lauren Rousseau in Danbury, Conn., Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. Rousseau, 30, was killed when Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Dec. 14, and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before killing himself. Arming teachers in response to the school shootings last week in Newtown, Conn., would not be a good way to make schools safer, public safety officials in Maine said Friday. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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"At first blush, I would have to say that's a terrible idea," said Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck.

"I want our teachers, our professional educators, to be doing just that, to be focusing on their passion, their job, and that is educating children.

"I think the answer is less guns, not more guns, quite frankly," he said.

Jeff Weinstein, a former Yarmouth School Committee member who is president of the Maine Gun Owners Association, said Thursday that allowing teachers and other staff members who have concealed-weapons permits to bring guns to school would help protect students against a gunman.

A state lawmaker from Hampden has proposed legislation to make that possible. Similar proposals have been made in other states in the past week.

Several law enforcement officials said that approach could actually increase the danger.

"Do we really want to go to that extent?" said York County Sheriff Maurice Ouellette.

"What if an irate person came in and was kind of upset at their ex who hadn't dropped the child off the night before, and somebody pulls a gun and shoots them?"

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said it takes extensive and ongoing training for officers to learn about responding to potentially violent situations, and when and how to use a gun.

Teachers lack such training, he said.

Joyce said communities would favor a federal program to expand the number of police officers in schools.

He said Lake Region High School in Naples and Gray-New Gloucester High School have expressed interest in hiring resource officers if they get some help paying the cost.

On Friday, the National Rifle Association called on Congress to put armed officers or security personnel in every school, and suggested that armed volunteers could be used to avoid a huge expense.

Such proposals are probably unrealistic, police said.

"I would love to have the resources to have more school resource officers -- and youth services officers and drug agents and patrol officers," said Sauschuck.

Col. Robert Williams, chief of the Maine State Police, didn't reject the idea of allowing teachers to carry guns, but he didn't endorse it.

"There are going to be a number of pieces of legislation under discussion this winter regarding gun control and how we protect our children," he said.

"We will listen to them all, evaluate them as far as what is the best public safety position" and work with legislators to advance the best ideas.

The state police do not routinely station troopers at schools, but Williams noted that troopers have made 858 school visits this year.

Many involved reviewing safety plans, conducting exercises and critiquing drills, he said.

"Maine is a safe state," Williams said. "Now we're exploring violence that's happened in other states to make sure it doesn't happen here, and to what extent do we provide security, armed or otherwise, at schools."

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com

 

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