Cops: Fund more armed officers in Mich. schools

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Holt – Law enforcement and education groups are calling on Michigan lawmakers to provide $120 million to fund school resource officers, mental health professionals and building safety inspections in the wake of violent school shootings in Florida and Maryland.

The coalition unveiled their plan Thursday at Holt High School in Ingham County, where Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth said a school resource officer from his department provides an “incalculable” service in preventing school violence.

“School shootings, bomb threats, you name it, we hear it every single day in the media, and we deal with it almost every single day in law enforcement,” Wriggelsworth said. “Our teachers, parents and educators, they want action now.”

The plan calls for $50 million in annual state grants for school districts to contract with their local sheriff or police department for armed school resource officers and $50 million in grants for districts to hire school psychologists or counselors.

An additional $20 million grant program would help fund law enforcement safety inspections across the state and potential security improvements at individual buildings.

When he graduated from Holt in 1998, he never thought about “dying in school,” but students and teachers now do everyday, said Wriggelsworth, whose wife is a teacher.

“I think we all agree this wasn’t the world we want to live in, but we do, and we think this can make a significant impact on school safety.”

The proposal comes as Michigan legislators develop their own plans to improve school safety, including a pending House bill that would allow willing teachers to carry or access guns inside their building.

Legislative leaders said they already have been discussing potential school safety initiatives and want those talks to be part of ongoing budget negotiations for fiscal year 20194. But they have not committed to any specific funding level.

Law enforcement officials declined to comment on calls to arm teachers, a proposal also floated by President Donald Trump, or a “red flag” bill that would give police greater power to confiscate weapons from individuals a judge deems an immediate threat.

“What we’re proposing is a common-sense reform approach … that will save lives and make Michigan a better place to live, do business and raise a family,” said Blaine Koops of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

Koops noted recent mid-Michigan school shooting threats in Okemos and PawPaw. At Holt High, students were placed in lockdown due to a bomb threat, he said. As The Detroit News reported Wednesday, Michigan school threats have soared in recent weeks.

Roughly one-third of Michigan school districts have a resource officer, according to officials, who projected their $50 million grant program could finance 500 additional officers in districts across the state.

Wriggelsworth noted a school resource officer in Maryland confronted a school shooter on Tuesday after he injured two students. The officer “stopped that threat and probably saved many lives,” he said.

Seventeen students were killed last month in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where an armed officer reportedly reported the threat from outside the building but did not go inside to confront the shooter.

There is one psychologist for every 4,800 students in Michigan and one social worker for every 500 students, said Lansing Public Schools Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul, who added that the ratios are “simply not good enough.”

“It’s critical that we have first responders like sheriffs and police in case of emergency,” she said, “however the presence of counselors and mental health professionals, we know from experience, can prevent many tragedies from ever happening.”

The proposal unveiled Thursday includes a $20 million grant program for school infrastructure, which St. Clair County Sheriff Tim Donnellon said could fund law enforcement inspections at every school in the state “to identify issues and opportunities to harden schools.”

Officers would then help schools identify needed security upgrades, such as improved locks or hardened windows, he said, suggesting the proposed grants could “mean stronger schools and safer students.”

The plan is backed by associations representing Michigan chiefs of police, prosecutors, school administrators and boards, psychologists, social workers and counselors. But it is not yet actual legislation. Officials are working with lawmakers to find sponsors willing to introduce bills in the House or Senate.

“Nothing in this proposal is controversial,” said Tuscola County Prosecutor Mark Reene. “Nothing here is divisive. These are common-sense, bipartisan solutions to a very real crisis that each and every one of us is confronted with every day.”

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, has said he is focused on school safety in the wake of shootings in other states.

Spokeswoman Amber McCann called the new plan “worthy of additional discussion” and said it touches on some issues Senate Republicans have been discussing in caucus meetings.

“A number of districts have made security changes to their school buildings and already have training programs for school personnel,” McCann said.

House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, said he was pleased to see law enforcement and education groups come together to formulate a plan, which lawmakers have also been doing.

“I’ve been focused on mental health, but we’ve also had a lot of conversations about school safety,” Leonard told reporters Thursday afternoon. “I don’t want to go into too many details right now, but many of the things they were talking about are things we’ve been having discussion about as well.”

Gov. Rick Snyder has said he is also developing a gun violence response plan. The administration has not announced details, but state Budget Director John Walsh said two weeks ago that Snyder told him to be prepared to devote “some money for school safety.”

Democratic state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo of Detroit is set to host local law enforcement officials at a school safety summit 9 a.m. Friday at the Communications and Media Arts High School in the city.

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