Stu Bykofsky: These days, we need armed cops in schools

Posted: January 29, 2013

SOME PEOPLE were teed off when an NRA commercial made mention of President Obama's daughters getting armed protection while the president opposes the same for your children.

I was ticked off, too: It's false.

The ad created some controversy and was discussed by Mike Gallagher, heard mornings on WNTP (990-AM). Gallagher called out the president for "hypocrisy." If Gallagher didn't know the facts and was wrong, that's justifiable. If he knew the facts and deliberately misled his listeners, that's not.

Easily found online, No. 18 of Obama's 23 executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence is this: "Provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers." That's a nice way of saying cops. A few days earlier, California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who's as anti-gun as they come, announced that schools wanting to hire armed guards would get no opposition from her. So the guns-in-school debate is so yesterday.

Some parents want armed guards, others don't. I'd let local school districts decide if guards are necessary. ( Time magazine reports that the odds of a student being killed in school are one-third as great as being struck by lightning.)

In Philadelphia, we've had armed police in schools for decades, long before mass murderers became a public fixation. The reason: Many of our schools are dangerous places - for students, staff, administrators and teachers. Guards are there to help keep order. Teaching assistants once did that, but as the levels of violence and dysfunction rose, so did the number of uniforms - and guns.

Even with armed guards and metal detectors in all Philly high schools, some students and others attempt to smuggle guns in.

I asked Brendan Lee, executive director of school safety, for the figures for the past five years.

In the current school year, which started in September, he tells me, five weapons have been confiscated. For the entire previous school year, 2011-12, it was only two guns. For the 2010-11 school year, three. For 2009-10, a high of six, and four were found in 2008-09. Of the 20 guns, "15 were found in or near schools, the other five were confiscated from students [traveling] . . . to and from school," Lee says.

That may not seem like a lot in a district encompassing 140,000 students and 242 schools, but 20 guns is a large number.

Police officers have been in Philly schools since 1967, when the School Police Association was organized, according to union president Mike Lodise. He estimates that one-third of his members are retired police officers who are unarmed, carrying no equipment other than handcuffs. There are 375 school police officers - 325 in schools, 50 on patrol, protecting the system 24/7 - down from 420 a few years ago, due to budget cuts, Lodise says.

Are school police necessary?

Absolutely, Lodise says. "They solve so many problems during the course of the day, you can't imagine," because most are from the neighborhood around the school, he says, and "they know the students."

They are supplemented by 80 armed Philadelphia police officers in high schools, I was told by Chief Inspector Myron Patterson, who was the top manager on loan to the school district between 2010 and '12.

When I ask why cops are needed, he says that schools may "have intruders, may have disruptions; it's a lot of dynamics."

A bit more direct, Lee says Philadelphia has cops in schools because "there are crimes committed by our kids."

If you don't want cops in schools, would you remove those there already? Would that make your kids safer?

It's the new normal, like it or not.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Columns: philly.com/Byko

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