America is still reeling in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, which left 19 children and two adults dead.
Parents are rightfully concerned, wondering about the safety of the schools to which they send their children.
According to Pamela Reeves, President of The Alabama Association of School Resource Officers (AASR), Alabama has one of the highest participation rates of School Resource Officers (SRO) in the nation.
“We are in the schools, building relationships and building rapport with our young people so that they will give us information to help us keep our schools safe,” said Reeves, who is also 2nd Vice President of the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO). “So, it goes beyond being just the law enforcement officer in the school.
“In Alabama, each year, we continue to increase our numbers. As other agencies across the country defund, we have actually increased our numbers.”
SROs are peace officers in good standing with a law enforcement agency who are certified under the Alabama Peace Officers’ Standards and Training Commission (APOSTC), according to Reeves.
SROs operate under law enforcement agencies in the state and are under their authority.
Details are still coming in regarding the Texas shooting, and many questions remain unanswered.
Officials say the shooter “encountered” a school district security officer outside the school, though authorities had conflicting reports on whether the men exchanged gunfire. After running inside, he fired on two arriving Uvalde police officers who were outside the building, said Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson Travis Considine. The police officers were injured.
Criticism of the response of law enforcement has been frequent from observers of the Texas shooting, including the father of one of the victims.
Javier Cazares, whose fourth-grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, claimed that police were still gathering outside when he arrived at the school upon hearing of the shooting.
Upset that police were not moving in, he told the Associated Press that he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other bystanders.
“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” Cazares said. “More could have been done.”
While Reeves, herself with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, did not comment on the reasons for Texas law enforcement’s delayed response times, she did offer a perspective shared among Alabama’s SROs.
“When it comes to Alabama, I’m very lucky,” Reeves said. “Over the years, I’ve talked to many SROs and visited many school districts, and they are of the same mindset; If that day comes, they are ready to respond. In my world of law enforcement officers in Alabama, I would say in great confidence, if something like that were to happen, we would respond in the most appropriate rapid way we could.
“… We’re going in. We’re going to save lives.”
Reeves believes in taking a holistic approach to SROs. For her, school security is more than having an armed law enforcement official at a school; it is also about maintaining open communication between SROs and school administration.
“It’s not just having somebody there with a gun; it’s the whole package,” Reeves said. “It’s having somebody there with a gun, who is trained properly with it, and then is doing what they need to do to engage with the young people on that campus, the adults on that campus, to keep it safe and prevent something from happening.
“Another thing that gets lost in the mix is drills. In Alabama, there is a stringent drill schedule that each one of our public schools has to follow. Each month there is a drill they are supposed to be doing. What that does is reduce the amount of time it takes you to process what’s happening, and hopefully, you will respond quicker. When it comes to an active shooter situation, that is very important because seconds could make the difference between life and death.”
In the wake of previous school shootings, states began to contemplate allowing willing teachers to carry weapons to school.
Alabama was one state that passed legislation allowing teachers to carry weapons in certain instances.
In May of 2018, Gov. Kay Ivey began the Alabama Sentry Program. This voluntary program permits administrators in schools without an SRO to maintain a firearm on campus in a secure safe in order to be prepared to respond to an active shooter situation. The program requires that the administrator successfully complete training created and certified by the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA).
Recent heated discussions in the public sphere regarding the relationship between children and their teachers, particularly surrounding topics like sexuality and gender identity being taught in schools, have led to a feeling of division between educators, students and their parents. Videos of impassioned parents pleading their case before school boards have spread across social media which furthers this tension.
Reeves believes the polarizing effect of these types of social media posts has negatively portrayed educators, leading to parents not trusting teachers to protect their children.
“As a parent, reach out to your school systems and find out all the requirements they are supposed to be doing and trust those people that have chosen to become educators," Reeves said. "They have dedicated their lives to not only making sure that your children reach their greatest potential, but they’ve taken on this new responsibility of keeping them safe; they need a little trust and faith from the parents.
“I think Facebook and some social media sites, they can really pull out the bad, and try to engage the bad,” Reeves said. “But there are a lot of really, really good people who want to really, really protect the children.”
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