One month after 17 people were killed in a shooting at a Florida high school, the Muscogee County School District’s security director has called for full-time armed officers and metal detectors at every school.
The state legislation is in place to create a department comprising trained peace officer with limited jurisdiction, just like Columbus State University and Columbus Technical College, MCSD security director Scott Thomann told the school board during its monthly work session Monday night.
“It’s a matter of the board making it happen,” he said.
MCSD uses part-time officers who are off duty from local law enforcement agencies to form its security staff. Security director Scott Thomann wouldn’t publicly release the number of officers MCSD has and where they are stationed, although he did share that information with school board members, who were asked to keep it confidential.
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“With 57 locations, it doesn’t take long to run out of resources,” Thomann said. If the part-time officer is called from his MCSD assignment back to his full-time law enforcement job, he said, “I lose my resources for that day. Then we scramble to make sure our gaps are covered.”
Thomann later noted, “It’s public knowledge the Columbus Police Department is short of officers. Our resources are up and down. … As their resources drop, so do our resources. So that pool I have to draw from dwindles.”
District 8 representative Frank Myers said, “It’s time to have an internal, real, live police force.” He objected to MCSD having some schools with a security officer on duty and others without one.
“This is not right when everybody’s not being protected equally,” Myers said.
Thomann explained, “We provide police services to all 32,000 kids in this district. When you drive home, there’s not a police car parked in every driveway, but every citizen is provided police services. We move assets around where we perceive a threat today that wasn’t there yesterday. … At any given time at any given moment on any given day, there could be a police officer at any school in this district.”
MCSD’s part-time security officers are paid $30 per hour and receive no benefits, he said.
Magnetometers, or metal detectors, are another suggestion from Thomann. He proposed putting four at each of the high schools and two at each middle school and elementary school. The Edgewood Student Services Center, where students with severe behavior violations are assigned, is the only MCSD location with a metal detector.
Bibb County School District in Macon, similar in size (24,000 students) and demographics, has a full-time campus police officer assigned to each of the middle and high schools, and they patrol the feeder elementary schools in their zone. Bibb superintendent Curtis Jones announced Tuesday a metal detector would be installed at one high school, Westside, as a pilot program.
Thomann also called for increasing “layers of safety” at MCSD schools. Beyond the front door, he wants another point of controlled access before unauthorized visitors could reach classrooms. Too often, schools have unlocked doors for no “operational reason,” he said, and too many schools are built without secured access in mind.
“We’re miserably failing at incorporating it in our design,” Thomann said.
Superintendent David Lewis said, “There’s a balance between safety and convenience.” Resources also are a factor, he added.
“I think we’ve reached the time in our society,” Thomann said. “We’ve got to take on the inconveniences.”
District 6 representative Mark Cantrell advocated for fencing around schools. Referring to the fifth-grader who was caught with a loaded gun at Reese Road Leadership Academy last week, he said, “We need more security in all of our schools.”
District 4 representative Naomi Buckner cautioned against creating an atmosphere akin to a prison. “They still should be schools,” she said.
No estimate was provided for what it would cost the district to implement any of these proposals. Thomann, however, said, “If you’ve got the money, I got a plan.”
District 2 representative John Thomas asked the administration to estimate the cost of having an armed officer at every school every day “from open to close.”
Thomann also offered a no-cost suggestion: Allow law enforcement officers to file their electronic reports via MCSD’s Wi-Fi so schools could have a patrol car on campus during that time for free.
Lewis plans to bring the board proposals to upgrade the district’s security, starting next month, he said.
MCSD has a security monitoring station that is staffed through the day and night all year, Thomann said, tracking activity at district properties via video feeds. Short of forming a full-time security staff, MCSD has upgraded school safety the past several years by using money from the 1 percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, Thomann said. Those measures include:
▪ Multiple warning devices to reduce response times.
▪ Communication redundancy in case one system fails.
▪ Standardized radios so MCSD can communicate with responders from all agencies.
Next month, Lewis said, the administration plans to recommend purchasing for all schools a visitor management system from Raptor Technologies of Houston. The system requires school visitors to have a state-issued ID to be scanned into a database, which automatically checks whether the visit is on the sex-offender registry, Thomann said.
MCSD’s security staff also has been conducting unannounced lockdown drills at each school to prepare for an active shooter, Thomann said.
“I want to have a premier district in every way,” Thomann said. “… I think we have the experience, I think we have the knowledge, and I think we have the resources to let other people copy us.”
Lewis concluded the 75-minute discussion by emphasizing that school security “is on the forefront of our mind every day. It’s not something that should be, but it has to be.”