ARAB, Ala. (WHNT) — The superintendent and Board of Education in Arab made a significant change to their security plans over winter break.
They made arrangements with the Arab Police Department to have an armed police officer at each of their four campuses from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every school day.
School officials met with police five days after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, to discuss the possibility of having extra protection to try and prevent a similar situation.
“We have safe schools, but at the same time the people at Sandy Hook Elementary would have said that was a safe school,” superintendent John Mullins said.
The city had one full-time resource officer who rotated among the four schools, and police chief Ed Ralston said that left them vulnerable to attackers before police could arrive.
“A lot goes on in a minute and a half or two minutes,” Ralston said.
“With the officer there now, we meet the confrontation within seconds, and hopefully before they get too far into the school, we will know they are coming.”
There will not be a single officer designated to each school, other than the full-time school resource officer who is now assigned to Arab Elementary School.
Instead, off-duty officers will rotate days at Arab Primary, Junior High, and High School during their weekends. Arab police work four consecutive days and then have four off.
None of them are required to do school duty, but Ralston said officers gladly volunteered.
“A lot of our officers, I would say a third, have kids that are in these schools and they want to be a part of that as they know the threat that’s out there,” Ralston said.
“Hopefully it will never happen but it could.”
Ralston said the officers’ main duties will be monitoring the premises, and while they are getting paid for the extra work, it is not the extra overtime pay they would normally receive.
The state limits the salary of retired police serving as school resource officers to $22,000.
The school would use retired law enforcement officers but the city doesn’t have enough retired officers, so the police agreed to work for the equivalent hour rate of $15.
The school system is paying for it out of local funding, which Mullins says fits in the budget.
“We can afford the 66,000 extra dollars a year at our campus,” the superintendent said.
“Why would we not do it? How could we face the future? And then the bizarre unexpected happen here and we look back and say we could have done this.
“I don’t think it’s an overreaction, I think it is a thoughtful reaction to reality. What happened in those communities can happen anywhere and we simply don’t want it to happen here.”
Mullins said having police officers on campus is a lot like owning flood insurance.
He said his house probably won’t ever flood, but he pays for the insurance just in case.
“I don’t think we’re ever going to have an armed invader at one of our schools, but if we do we have the insurance of knowing we have an armed responder there on our campus at the same time,” Mullins said.
He and the police chief both said they looked at many studies which show mass shootings at schools haven’t happened with police present.
“The first deterrent is to have that marked car outside and the second is having that armed guard or that police officer inside. That in itself is a great deterrent,” Ralston said.
Mullins said he and the Board of Education are are also in the process of improving hardware at the building including video surveillance and electronic locking systems.
“Our schools, like most schools, were not built with safety security being an issue,” he said.
“Schools were built with functionality and economy as the issues, not school safety.”