While debate rages at the national, state and local levels about gun control and public safety, local law enforcement and school district officials agree that maintaining security on the Blaine campus will be a priority in 2013, especially in light of the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut last month.
“If there is a centerpiece to our community, it has to be the school district,” Blaine police chief Mike Haslip said. “With all the schools on one campus, around 2,500 students and staff, you can feel the energy when you go there. It’s a vibrant campus that is highly involved and connected with the surrounding community, and we’re blessed to have it.”
Protecting those on campus is perhaps the highest priority of the Blaine police department, Haslip said.
“We have officers on campus almost everyday, whether it’s a patrol car visiting campus, or an outreach officer visiting a class to talk about personal safety, online safety, or things of that nature,” he said, adding that he and other officers meet with Blaine school principals to discuss issues of school safety every month, and have for years.
“It’s a relationship we’ve upheld even in times of resource constraint,” he said.
This year could be one of those times of constraint, Haslip said. The Blaine police department lost two officer positions in the 2013 budget, and one civilian police specialist position.
“That makes putting together a package for a police presence on campus a much bigger challenge,” he said. “In the past, through the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program, we had an officer on campus almost all the time, but that program has fallen out of use. Due to the loss of that and other resources, we’ve been missing that constant presence.”
Despite budgetary challenges, Haslip said his department is working with the school district to increase police presence on campus.
Blaine school district superintendent Ron Spanjer cited a variety of measures implemented recently to make Blaine schools safer. With a concentrated campus, multiple entry points, and a shared cafeteria space that poses an open scenario during the lunch hour, the school facilities present some unique challenges, Spanjer said.
“Ultimately we hope to see a lot of these issues remedied through the capital improvement projects,” he said. In the meantime, the district has electronic doors in the elementary and middle schools and reviews class schedules to determine which doors should remain locked. They’ve added security cameras, and are in the process of installing large-screen security monitors in various locations.
Spanjer said the district has six school counselors: two each at the high and middle schools, and one each at the Blaine and Point Roberts elementary schools. The counselors monitor and promote mental health, and offer mentoring and counseling services.
“These skilled and experienced counselors and their support staff have been instrumental in supporting kids and families in need,” Spanjer said. “We’ve been fortunate to retain them through an economic downturn.”
Spanjer agreed with Haslip in saying that law enforcement presence on campus is key for security at the schools.
“We look for opportunities to bring officers on campus whenever we can,” he said. “That’s been a solid and beneficial relationship for years. The Blaine police department, Whatcom County Sheriff’s Department, and Border Patrol advise us on options for maintaining and improving campus security, and we feel fortunate to have such a strong partnership with local law enforcement.”
“Right now we’re determining best practice for a strengthening our relationship with the schools,” Haslip said. “If we can put a uniformed officer into the campus community, what would be the best use for that officer? We don’t know the particulars yet, and it may be one officer dedicated to campus, or it may be a combined effort. It’s something both sides, the city and the school district, are working on. We’re confident we can put something together in the coming months.”
Regarding gun control, Haslip was hesitant to offer an opinion.
“Police are hired to uphold the agreed-upon social order,” he said. “It’s not our job to make the laws – that’s up to the legislators. They need to represent the wishes of the people, and make laws that people can agree upon.”
Haslip said he hasn’t seen convincing statistical evidence to support either side of the issue, and his anecdotal evidence is inconclusive.
“Our department has had one instance in the past where a young person was in the process of planning a shooting at a public place,” he said. “His plans involved a low-capacity, hunting-style rifle because that’s what he had access to. If he had access to an assault-style rifle with a higher capacity magazine, would he have had the potential to do greater harm? Would he have chosen to use that style of weapon? It’s conjecture, because he didn’t have access and we caught him and detained him in the planning stages. We train and prepare for mitigating these instances. They can occur anywhere, and when they happen they are completely devastating, but the fact is they are extremely rare.”
District 42nd state representative Jason Overstreet had this to say about gun control:
“The unspeakably tragic events in Newtown and other locations around the country continue to make the case that more freedom, allowing the individual to protect themselves and those around them, is needed – not less. To believe that a law, such as a gun-free zone or a ban on modern sporting rifles will protect innocents from those intent on doing great harm to them, is to fail to acknowledge that Connecticut had both. I will stand firmly against any encroachment on the law abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms. I swore an oath to do so.”
Under RCW 9.41.190, it is unlawful for any person to own or possess any machine gun, short-barreled or sawed-off rifle, or shotgun (with the exception of licensed law enforcement officers and members of the armed forces). There is no state law restricting the capacity of magazines or the type of assault-style long arm targeted by recently proposed bans at the federal level. Current federal law bans the possession of semi-automatic assault weapons manufactured after October 1, 1993, along with machine guns, sawed-off long arms, firearm silencers, and any firearm that lacks a serial number.
There are no moves currently at the state level to address gun control.
According to FBI statistics, handgun deaths account for approximately 63 percent of all murders in the U.S. from 2007-2011. Handguns are not the target of any current gun law reforms at the federal level.
In a letter to the community following the tragedy in Connecticut, Spanjer said, “There is no more important work than that which our collective communities engage in on behalf of children. We have an unqualified obligation to assure that teaching and learning are taking place in the safest of environments.”