In early July, the Arkansas School Safety Commission released an initial report with 19 safety recommendations for school districts. Many of those recommendations have already been put into practice in the Concord School District where six unidentified employees currently serve as armed commissioned security officers.
Scott Whillock, Concord High School principal, said that the district has had commissioned security officers (CSOs) on campus for the past two years, following the passage of Act 393 of 2015 that allowed trained school personnel to be armed on school campuses.
“Initially training for commissioned officers was minimal, but legislature added more accountability measures, including 60 hours of initial training and lots of follow-up training each year,” he said.
According to Whillock, the six CSOs in the Concord School district have been trained on the laws regarding school security, first aid, self-defense, apprehension of offenders, and gun handling and shooting drills. CSOs also have to qualify yearly for marksmanship at a shooting range, they must participate in tactical simulations, and they must also pass a criminal background check in order to be allowed to be armed on campus.
Whillock said one of the reasons the CSO program seemed like a good fit for Concord Schools was the rural location of the district. The entire community has only one city marshal, and response time from authorities in Batesville or Heber Springs might not be fast enough in an emergency situation.
“Research and data from the FBI says if an incident were to occur, it is often over within five minutes,” he said. “We just thought this was a way to provide safety to the students and teachers in a way that we might not get by waiting on someone to arrive.”
The equipment and training was paid for with district funds, but Whillock says the peace of mind in the community has made the investment more than worth it.
“I think kids and parents have a sense of relief and comfort that this is a safe place, and the community really supports the program,” he said. “I’ve heard nothing but positive comments about school security officer program. I think it gives the community a sense of confidence that employees and students are safe.”
At least twice a year a training group visits Concord Schools to conduct simulations. The simulations are performed on campus so that the CSOs become more familiar with their surroundings and potential areas of vulnerability. The CSOs gear up and even use a starter pistol as they simulate various emergency situations. During these simulations, the district also invites local law enforcement to run through scenarios and discuss points of concern. Local law enforcement also has maps of the district — including building numbers that are clearly posted on the outside of each school building.
Whillock said that the background check and qualification process makes becoming a CSO very selective.
“We’ve been fortunate to have trustworthy people volunteer to be commissioned security officers,” he said. “They are willing to accept the responsibility that comes with this job.”
Whillock said he hears from some critics that every district employee should be armed, but he does not agree.
“Not everyone is comfortable with a gun,” he said. “Many people didn’t get into education thinking they would have a need to be armed. Being a teacher and being a police officer are different passions. We’ve been lucky that those passions are blended for some of our people.”
In addition to the CSOs, the district has also installed u-bolt door locks on all outside-access classrooms. These locks are designed to help prevent an intruder from breaking down a door. District Superintendent Dr. Michael Davidson said that the measures the district has taken to keep students and employees safe are comforting and necessary.
“It’s been a tremendous asset to our school district to have our own security team,” he said. “I feel much safer, and I certainly feel like our kids are much safer by having our own security force on our campus. We’re so isolated, and response time is so critical, so having those people here is very important.”
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