Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe chats during the Vale Chamber of Commerce banquet recently. Wolfe urges local school districts to place a school resource officer in each facility and believes teachers should be trained to carry concealed weapons. (The Enterprise/Les Zaitz)
VALE – Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe said schools that don’t have a resource officer on duty put students and teachers in unnecessary danger during an active shooter situation.
“I believe every school should have a cop in it. I will go a step further. I think our school districts and school boards and law enforcement are failing by not having them in schools,” said Wolfe.
He reacted to the latest school shooting that left 17 dead at a Florida high school.
School resource officers are assigned to Ontario and Nyssa high schools. Vale and Adrian high schools don’t have such in-school police staffing.
Nyssa Police Chief Ray Rau said a school resource officer often plays the most important role in averting a tragedy.
“There is an officer there that the staff and students trust. You have students not afraid to talk to him,” said Rau.
That relationship paid off two weeks ago in Nyssa when a student tipped off the school resources officer that a classmate had a “hit list” and planned a violent act.
The tip proved to be unfounded but police and school staff were able to immediately react and question the student.
Ontario Police Chief Cal Kunz said school resource officers build a rapport that pays off in an emergency.
“When there is a problem, having those relationships often equates to better information,” said Kunz.
Wolfe said there is no time to lose regarding school safety.
“Law enforcement and schools better figure out a way to get their schools more secure. And the school resource officers are one of the important steps to doing that,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe said funding can, and often is, an obstacle.
“I still think our schools do a pretty good job with what they have. I realize there have been some real challenges with it comes to financing,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe said he believes teachers – if they choose – should be armed.
“For as goofy as it may sound, I have for years said we need to have qualified and trained school staff carrying concealed weapons,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe said he offered such training to several local districts.
“We haven’t trained anybody,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe said the sheriff’s office once furnished a school resource officer shared between Vale, Harper and Adrian school districts.
“That’s not a great solution but it was better than nothing,” said Wolfe.
The position was dropped after grant funding dried up.
Wolfe said he hoped Vale School District could find a way to fund the school resource officer position.
“The intent was to put him (the SRO) into the high school for part of the year, October through April, just to show the positive effects of the program in hopes that the school would budget it for the next year. That didn’t happen,” said Wolfe.
Wolfe, Rau and Oregon State Police Lt. Mark Duncan said their officers all train to react quickly to an active shooter situation.
“We’ve done our own training and also trained with other agencies on numerous occasions,” said Duncan.
Duncan said during an active shooter incident, police will waste no time reacting.
“The key word is stop the threat. We have to act. If we don’t act, more people are hurt or killed. We storm the building. You hear shots. You go toward the shots and neutralize the threat,” said Duncan.
Rau said police plan for the worst and hope for the best.
“All you can do is do what we’ve done — have relationships built, policies and procedures in place and hope you never have to use them,” said Rau.
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