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School Security’s Buy-A-Cop Delusions

| February 3, 2013

False choice. (Smarterlam)

False choice. (Smarterlam)

People can’t be blamed for having raw, emotional responses to insanities such as the Newtown school massacre on Dec. 14. But some responses stagger from the emotional to the ridiculous and back to the insane.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive You know the story well by know. Immediately after the Christmas break, the parent of a sixth grade girl at Old Kings Elementary in Palm Coast shelled $11,800 out of her pocket to buy herself a full-time armed guard and ordered it posted at her child’s school. That’s the cost for just the first two months. She’s pledged to keep writing checks until the end of the year. Guard duty is fulfilled by local sheriff’s deputies who volunteer for overtime detail at the school. (Good for them: road deputies are underpaid, but this is the wrong assignment for them.)

The parent’s “gift” isn’t the most astounding part of this story. This is: the Flagler County school district swallowed the offer, no questions asked. The money was actually drawn out of the woman’s company’s account, an obscure firm she and her husband own. A company spokesman weirdly and repeatedly refused to clearly explain what this company, on the hook for protecting one of our schools, is about. The company allegedly makes bright tail-lights and sundry equipment for policing uses, under the bizarre imprint of–forgive the inelegance, but it’s what’s sponsoring a thousand children’s personal centurion–BrightAssLights.com.

The school district never checked out the company, which also goes by a more generic name (Police Services Inc.). The school superintendent told me that she didn’t even know the check had been drawn from a company account until I told her. The check could have been written off of a Hamas charity for all that anyone cared: not only was it accepted. The guard was posted at the school one Monday, without school board approval, without the school board attorney’s clearance, and without several board members even knowing about it. The parent wanted to keep it quiet, I kept being told, as if money could now buy silence, too.

The whole thing had been worked out on one sheet of paper posing as a contract, signed by Laura Lauria (the parent) and Winnie Oden, the principal at the district’s alternative school who, in her liaison role with school cops, likes to think of herself as the school board’s Secretary of Defense. Naturally, she too would not speak to me about the arrangement, “transparency” with Oden being a lip-service thing that goes no further than her appearances before the board. It was only after FlaglerLive reported the story, which quickly went global, that the school board was formally filled in to take action on the matter.

Then another remarkable thing happened. Board members tripped over each other to sing Lauria’s praises (without once mentioning her name or that of her company) and approve the Buy-a-Cop program. They actually said that they could not turn down a donation of that size. Only Sue Dickinson, ironically the board member whose district includes Old Kings Elementary, had the courage to say it straight: grateful though she was for the money, she didn’t like the precedent this was setting, she didn’t like having one public school privately favored over another, and she didn’t appreciate the board being circumvented. But Dickinson could also sense where the mob was on this one, so she voted to approve the donation anyway.

As it is, the board on Tuesday is to discuss a broader security plan that entails bringing back school cops to elementary schools, from where they’d been withdrawn several years ago over budget constraints. The plan may replace Buy-a-Cop with Cop-by-Tax.

With Sheriff Redux Jim Manfre‘s blessing. This is the same Manfre who a week before the Newtown massacre was reasonably telling a reporter of his “misgivings” about having Tasers in schools (it’s never a good idea to have instruments of torture on any cop’s school beat). And the same Manfre who was justly ridiculing former Sheriff Don Fleming’s penchant for turning a local police agency into a high-caliber armory. Now Manfre not only wants to keep Tasers juiced in school, but he wants cops in every elementary school, too.

It doesn’t diminish the insanity of the response. It merely amplifies it at taxpayers’ expense while doing nothing more than stroking–if not stoking–populist fears. Costs would be colossal (each cop goes for about $80,000 a year, when insurance and benefits are included). Schools’ cop fetish would be appeased. But it’s very doubtful that security would improve. Armed guards at Columbine and Virginia Tech did nothing to stop those massacres.

Armed guards won’t stop the next mass shooting, either, though In Flagler we have at least two recent, documented events where armed guards had nothing to do with diffusing potentially lethal situations in the two local high schools. Smart and dogged policing by the sheriff’s office beyond the schools and administrators and faculty whose eyes and ears were well attuned to trouble students’ social media and other wavelengths in school is what worked, and what worked terrifically well. To put it another way, guns don’t stop people with guns. Intelligence and sound judgment do.


And let’s be honest. There’s been five mass shootings in 14 years in the nation’s 130,000 public and private schools (besides Columbine, one at an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, one on a Minnesota Indian reservation, the Feb. 2012 shooting at Chadron High School in Ohio, and Newtown). It isn’t a crisis. It’s a tragedy. It’s an indictment of the nation’s barbaric adoration of guns. But it’s an aberration in the strictest sense of the term. It doesn’t change the fact that our schools are among the safest places on earth—safer by far than many homes from where our children come from.

You’ll tell me that no cost can be placed on a child’s safety, so more armed cops in schools makes sense. I’ll tell you that your drunk driving or texting while driving is exponentially more likely to harm my child than the next school shooter. I don’t see schools jeopardizing their budgets over those daily killings.

Worse: we have children going home hungry or dropping out illiterate. We have children starved for parenting or a shred of love. We have children enduring sexual and physical abuse anywhere but at school, as any teacher well knows in virtually every school. Yet this arms race is what we choose to manufacture into a crisis and pretend to resolve by dumping more dollars, cops and guns where they’re least needed.

Our schools might as well be replicating the decrepit years of the Soviet Union: armed to the teeth while crumbling from within. That we so readily applauded the privatization of the scheme, as with Palm Coast’s Buy-a-Cop program, shows to what extent our priorities have taken a bullet to the head. Mass shootings are nowhere near as lethal to our future as mass stupor.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. This column is also syndicated through Florida Voices.

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45 Responses for “School Security’s Buy-A-Cop Delusions”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Well said. Thank you

  2. Karma says:

    When I read stories like this, I get so angry. The fake concern about the children and their safety. Did you know that damaging or destroying the egg of an eagle can cost you up to $250,000 in fines and or up to 6 years in prison in some states. Not only is legal to kill an unborn child, but it can be paid for by tax payer dollars. The same money that could be used for hungry or the illiterate drop out children, Why is the writer not outraged by this. Please try to be a little more convincing about your real concern. It’s really about gun control and your using the children as a prop.

  3. Alex says:

    Did people-in-charge consider locking the doors after classes start and open it when school is over?

    Isn’t that what we do at home?

    • The Truth says:

      The door at Sandy Hook was locked. Unfortunately, a locked door will not keep a crazy person with any gun, particularly an AR-15 weapon, out of a school.

  4. emile says:

    Thank you, Pierre. That was a reasonable and well thought out essay. “guns don’t stop people with guns. Intelligence and sound judgment do.” I’ll remember that.

    • Joe says:

      Another story about guns by Pierre Tristan, what else is new. Emile, I have something for you to chew on. If you think that guns don’t stop people with guns you are sadly mistaken. How about we have our troops fight the war on terrorism without guns by using nothing more than intelligence and sound judgement. You let me know how that turns out and you can be the one at their funeral next to their family members. And another thing, if someone is going to do something good or bad they will, plain and simple. And Pierre, what is it with you and guns my friend?

      • Samuel Smith says:

        If the powers that be in the US had used intelligence and sound judgement, they never would have started the “war on terrorism” to begin with.

      • Sally says:

        Actually Joe, if you look at the research – terrorists ARE stopped by intelligence not by guns.

    • teedoff says:

      Here you go again Pierre.You think you are going to solve all the crime by banning guns.You do realize that there are over 250 million guns in this country.How do you propose to get them.What are you going to do with all the people that the gun industry employs. There is not just one company making semi auto guns, for you Liberals assault weapons.There are thousands and don’t tell me they can make for the military.
      I don’t see the problem with putting a deputy in the schools.I totally disagree that people with guns don’t stop bad people with guns If that was the case why are police armed.
      Pierre I love how you post pictures of guns and ammo with all your anti gun articles.You and most of the people who post here probably couldn’t identify a assault weapon from a hunting rifle.They just know a ar-15 is bad .

  5. JoJo says:

    Only ones pigging out here are cops at taxpayers expense. Nice gesture by citizen but we don’t need I Q Citizen making and deciding school board, Sheriffs Office and Taj Mahal polices and direction – that’s what we have elections for. Something stinks here and it ain’t just collusion.

    Spot on Flagler Live and excellent reporting!

  6. Paul Medford says:

    The Newtown school officials just competed a document covering Police and Security on campus. Maybe you should contact them with your contrasting point of view.

  7. Mel Bronson says:

    The bleedling heart progressive left marxist has spoken and issued his twisted perspective. Even the photo Pierre used was calculated to create evocative emotional response. This is the socialist media at its worst. Does Pierre really think any thinking person believes this tripe he spews forth every day?

    • Nancy N. says:

      Name calling and inferring that people who think differently than you are dumb are the best arguments you have to support your beliefs on this issue? That says a lot.

  8. Yellowstone says:

    In an elementary school reader there is a story . . .

    And then Henny Penny said, “the sky is falling, the sky is falling!”

    To the more rational, this a hysterical or mistaken belief that disaster is imminent.

    God please help us all . . .

  9. Sherry Epley says:

    Great article Pierre! I couldn’t agree more! When people shout about their second amendment rights, I want to point out that the second amendment doesn’t give individuals the right to own and use weapons of “mass destruction”. . . which is exactly what assault weapons are. I also want to ask about our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Those rights are greatly curtailed when our neighbors are armed to the teeth and the tranqulity of life is lost in fear and hostility.

    To even consider armed guards in our schools is outrageous. THINK about the message this sends, the impact it makes on young children when they are forced to walk by armed guards on their way to what should be a secure, sacred place of learning and interacting with other children. The myrid of lessons learned in school are far reaching integral parts of the foundations of who we become. Young students are, as they should be, human sponges . . . absorbing all input coming their way from every source. Do we really want the creators of the future civilizations on this planet to spend their childhood incarcerated, surrounded by armed guards “for their protection”. Exactly what crime have they committed?

    Having armed guards any place is a slippery slope. . . there are always more and bigger guns. . . where does it all end?

  10. Anonymous says:

    Pierre,
    You know my background in law enforcement.One of the main concerns I had while watching everything unfold in Newtown was a knee jerk reaction by the public and politicans. The reality is that what needs to be done is a complete overhall of physical security. There is no question that no matter what you do to prevent this horror from happening again…it wil if someone is committed to do this. However, what needs to be done is to harden the target so that it becomes too difficult to penetrate. Having armed security is not the cure all as evident in Newtown, Columbine and VT. The school board needs to examine what the priorities of funding should be. Armed security or Physical security

  11. Jack Howell says:

    Pierre,
    You know my background in law enforcement. I have attended top level schools on physical security and have even been responsible for the safe keeping and security of nuclear weapons. I think that would qualify me as knowledgeable in matters of this nature. One of the main concerns I had while watching everything unfold in Newtown was a knee jerk reaction by the public and politicans. The reality is that what needs to be done is a complete overhall of physical security. There is no question that no matter what you do to prevent this horror from happening again…it wil if someone is committed to do this. However, what needs to be done is to harden the target so that it becomes too difficult to penetrate. Having armed security is not the cure all as evident in Newtown, Columbine and VT. The school board needs to examine what the priorities of funding should be. Armed security or Physical security.

    • jespo says:

      Finally, someone on the right track….the softer the target the faster the blood runs in the wolves. They can start by changing over to steel doors with magnetic locks and bulletproof glass on the first floor windows at the expense of other construction considerations. In the end a lot cheaper and safer than armed guards with assault rifles who will magically be present at the exact location and time the shooter will appear.

      Then again, the shooter will probably just take out the 80,000 dollar a year guard first, then start shooting….or has anyone not thought of that?

  12. GoodFella says:

    Homeschool your children if you can, it is the best thing that you can do!

  13. Anonymous says:

    What about the parents who resent the officer and the attention being brought to this school? This invites more drama. Is this a case of if you pay the tab, you can put anything in place? This lady’s choice is being forced on every other parents child/children. I’m fearful this will invite a test or challenge. What is done for one, should be done for all. If this woman couldn’t pay for all children to be equally protected, her offer should have been turned down. She can put her kid in private school, or home school her. What is the next parent going to step forward with?

  14. w.ryan says:

    Well Said!

  15. Rick Stevens says:

    Why does history always repeat? I think, in general, as in this case, that humans behave reactively, not proactively: we seem never to have the collective foresight (gun control, waste management, birth control, environmental protection of clean water and air, healthy food for ourselves and our children, morality, et al.) to prepare and create, only to do damage control, usually too little too late. And leaders tend to be dangerous power mongers and trigger happy tribalists, not scientists and philosophers and educators. The fabric of societies unravels, there is unrest and uprising, and ultimately reorganization after much suffering and loss of life, and the whole thing starts over again. Pierre, I appreciate your perspective and intelligence on every issue, but, alas, you whistle in the wind. This country is circling the drain, and it only took about 50 years of some sorry leadership to make it happen.

  16. The Piranha says:

    I believe the correct saying just might be “Intelligent and and sound judgement people with guns stop people with guns”. Better yet, a well informed community, school board, faculty and law enforcement working toward a common goal have the best chance at stopping people with guns.

  17. Karma says:

    There is a story out of Atlanta from last week involving and a school shooting and an armed officer. Guess who stopped the shooter. Wonder why the media fails to tell the whole story. The story comes from the newspaper out of a Atlanta suburb.
    http://www.mdjonline.com/view/full_story/21579026/article-Student-shot-at-Price-Middle-School-in-Atlanta

  18. Stevie says:

    “guns don’t stop people with guns. Intelligence and sound judgment do.”

    this article says different….Columbine would have been much worse if there were no armed guards. More armed guards would have shut down the shooters even sooner. Less children in one place would have also lowered the number.

    http://news.investors.com/ibd-editorials/122412-638251-armed-school-guard-at-columbine-saved-lives.htm?p=full

    • The Truth says:

      So your answer to this is to simply place several armed guards at each school and call it a day? I think our society as a whole needs to be looked at. How we treat people, how we care for those in need, etc. It’s much more than throwing some more armed guards in a school.

  19. confidential says:

    The Newtown killer blasted his way inside the school thru a glass window or door as reported. Then would be wise from now on, to only provide skylight roof to ceiling windows in the schools and all access doors should be solid material bullet proof, not glass except for a disguised peeping hole. Also a red of surveillance cameras all around the exterior perimeter of the school for a permanent monitoring. Once classes start, school should be locked to outside walk ins, except for those allowed in by a well trained reception previously monitoring the individual via cameras and on arrival as well. A strict follow up of scheduled visitors and their id’s should be in place as well.

    I totally agree with the huge concern of today’s students parents and the understandable good response of the school board, officials, Mrs Lauria and Sheriff Manfre. Nothing suspicious there, just extreme meassures to confront extreme tragedies. Signs of our times, just like the security in our airports forever changed, after 2001. Is that supicious too?

  20. Gramps212 says:

    I’d gladly pay $20 more in my taxes for uniformed Deputies in all the schools (since I’m already paying for them in some of the schools), however, I’d prefer to not pay for the Global Outreach (Charter school) fiasco, which cost the county tens (if not hundreds) of thousands in getting them here & fines when they bailed 6 months later!

    I really don’t think it would cost more than a buck extra in tax money anyway. How much is the “Color Code” system going to do to help.

  21. Deep South says:

    Perhaps our schools should be set up the Military Bases. Besides Teachers, Students, and Administrators. All visitors are required to have a armed escort. while on school grounds.

    • IMO says:

      Our current government doesn’t even allow soldiers on military bases to carry guns. They had to call the local police to take down the Ft. Hood murderer. There wasn’t one soldier in that room armed with a gun.

  22. almostprofound says:

    What I find truly refreshing about this article is, the clear articulation between covert fears and overt idiots, who have a narcissistic mentality and actually believe civil intelligent society, somehow equates with guns and fear. An atmosphere of fear
    creates an atmosphere of fear thereby, derailing intelligent education, mind enhancing freedom of thought, Think about it.

    • Klaatu says:

      Who said society was intelligent ? No matter how far we EVOLVE , we will still be ANIMALS. That is until we lose our hair and are limbs. And the day will come when human beings will be only an electrical spark in a petri dish . Until then, the ANIMALS will continue to destroy each other. Security will still be needed for the next 1000 years.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Again amazing that some are upset with another giving of their own $$$ to pay the cost of OT for a cop to be at one of our schools. Would/could the cop stop all threats no BUT there is more of a chance they would be stoped by having one there as too no cop there. The only thing this left wing nut rag says i agree with is `~ And let’s be honest. There’s been five mass shootings in 14 years in the nation’s 130,000 public and private schools It isn’t a crisis. its a tragedy~ im preet sure this wont be posted but have a good day needed to put my thoughts out there

  24. despicable says:

    Just about all the posts have ignored, eluded to, or have failed to question the altruistic motives of this donor. What is her association, if any, to the School Board, the Sheriffs Department, County Commissioners or her private business interests.

    Just like an armed intruder by furtive entrance and stealth to our schools, it is ironic how Laura Lauria hand in hand carrying money bags bamboozled and hoodwinked Sue Dickinson and supposedly top players, including the Sheriff, School Board and Janet Valentine.

    Are taxpayers of Flagler County to believe this. Was this idea prearranged bypassing and run amok of Sun Shine laws and without public hearings. I think the real intrusion to our school security is some Board members and a newly elected Sheriff that are playing Quid pro quo at taxpayers expense.

    Let’s get to the bottom of this now.

  25. sickofyou says:

    “And let’s be honest. There’s been five mass shootings in 14 years in the nation’s 130,000 public and private schools (besides Columbine, one at an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, one on a Minnesota Indian reservation, the Feb. 2012 shooting at Chadron High School in Ohio, and Newtown). It isn’t a crisis. It’s a tragedy.”

    First of all, almost every day last week on the news, there was a shooting at a school somewhere in the US, including Florida. Just because there wasn’t 20+ people/children killed doesn’t mean it doesn’t qualify as a crisis in this nation. School shootings are a crisis and tragedy all the same.

    I’m disgusted by your article, Pierre, and your outright lack of support for our school district. The same school district your own daughter went to and is now heading off to college as we all know because of your “look at me” article you wrote about it. So Pierre, if your daughter was shot in a school shooting (and I pray that never happens, to anyone) would you be writing the same article as you’ve posted here with the same attitude and lack of respect and concern for the children of our county and those who are trying desperately to make sure it never happens in our schools? I seriously doubt it. If I have to pay more taxes to help ensure my child’s safety as best as possible, I would do it without a doubt ever crossing my mind.

  26. Whodat says:

    In 2009 at the most populous army base in the US, Fort Hood, a gunman killed 13 people and wounded 29. The place was full of guns . He murdered 13 people. For the record, the man was a psychiatrist.

    There are those who shoot down the door and start killing children and teachers. Then there are those
    perverts outside in the car waiting to take the children home. Security can’t be everywhere – vigilance can!

  27. observant says:

    “Intelligence and sound judgement “stop people who are talking about using guns to commit acts of violence. No doubt, this needs to be part of the equation. Sadly, intelligence and judgement will do little to stop a person who has already started killing the innocent. Only a good Guy with a gun stands a chance at that point. Without preparing for these events in both stages, we cannot be successful. To be truly prepared MUST include a plan involving intelligence and sound judgement to prevent these acts wherever possible, but must also include armed response for the cases that we failed to prevent.

  28. Stevie says:

    Why aren’t the schools liable/responsible for not protecting the children? I have looked at several gun violence cases and the gun makers, owners, or even video games are blamed. The schools are responsible to protect the children or they should be shut down if they don’t. The schools are run by people who make poor decisions and point the finger the other way.

  29. another voice says:

    This isn’t about guns, it’s about control. It’s about teaching our children to fear, and to be beholden to State-sanctioned “security.”

    Some of you clearly can’t see the forest for the trees, where our Constitution is concerned. You think this is about “gun confiscation” and that’s not correct. This whole exercise is about CONTROL. How much more do you want to be controlled by the state?

  30. Ray Thorne says:

    I wonder where the extra deputies would come from that would be assigned to every school? would we lose these deputies from patrolling our neighborhoods?

  31. Pamala Zill says:

    Klaatu, I do believe our thinkers conscious, caring people speak the Truth as evidenced by all the heartfelt, above mentioned posts. Also, I do understand your sentiments, yet I would rather find the Good and praise it.

  32. Erin Alford says:

    well said. As a parent of a Flagler County Elementary School student, I could not agree more. Thank You

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