Students need someone to trust, officer tells legislators

A legislative work group is examining ways to identify and stop someone contemplating a shooting.

LACEY — School resource officer Brad Klippert of Kennewick says the best way he knows of trying to prevent a student from reaching the point of shooting classmates is ensuring they have at least one good relationship with another person on campus.

For 18 years, he’s tried to be that person for every student he meets.

“Relationships, relationships, relationships. It’s the most important thing,” Klippert said Tuesday as he addressed a legislative work group examining approaches to identify and stop those contemplating a school shooting.

Klippert, a Benton County sheriff’s deputy and a Republican state lawmaker, described how he builds ties with students in six schools. There also were presentations from Clark County sheriff’s deputy Jason Granneman, a resource officer at Hockinson High School in Brush Prairie, and Mark Sterk, the Spokane Public Schools safety officer.

Collectively, they left a clear impression that the presence of law enforcement officers on campuses — in uniform or not, armed or unarmed — does help improve safety and reduce the potential for a mass shooting.

“We want to get the kids to the point they trust us and come to us with information,” said Sterk, a former Spokane County sheriff and state lawmaker.

That information can be acted on, in concert with school district staff, to avert tragedies, he said.

Vanessa Hernandez, of the ACLU and a member of the work group, offered another perspective.

She said a 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service found no conclusive data on whether school resource officers deterred mass shootings. That same report found conflicting conclusions on whether their presence reduced violence, she said.

“There is no evidence to suggest that in itself a school resource officer is the solution,” she said.

Research has shown students and teachers feel safer in schools with mental health professionals on staff who can attend to social and emotional needs of students on a daily basis, she said. Those are the relationships that need to be built, she said.

“We don’t put enough people into schools to do that work,” she said.

She said schools have more law enforcement officers than psychologists, social workers or nurses.

Sterk, the Spokane schools safety officer, said while officers are a valuable element, he hoped the work group would recommend the state provide more funds to hire mental health professionals for schools. “That’s a critical piece,” he said.

Hernandez said another concern is that the agreements under which school resource officers operate vary by school district, and sometimes within districts. Those differences affect training, data collection and guidelines for their role in disciplining students.

That further clouds the ability to measure effectiveness, she told the panel.

Also Tuesday, school resource officers stressed the need for districts to allow law enforcement to train teachers, staff and students — at least in middle school and high school — on ways to respond rather than run or hide if there is a shooter. They said that could help save lives, too.

“It’s time to stop having a victim mentality,” he said. “It’s time to fight back.”

The work group is slated to submit a report with recommendations to lawmakers in December.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald Twitter: @dospueblos.

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