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State lawmakers mull police protection at schools

11:48 AM, Dec 21, 2012   |    comments
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The National Rifle Association's pitch of an armed cop in every school in America got a lot of attention on Friday, but the idea of a law enforcement boost for schools is also being bandied about by California lawmakers both in Sacramento and in Washington, D.C.

"We need to keep the schools safe," said U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., in a radio interview on Thursday. The state's junior senator this week introduced what she calls the 'Save Our Students Act,' a proposal that, among other things, would allow National Guard soldiers to relieve local police officers from desk duty so that the cops could patrol schools.

"This would allow the schools to not have to put the burden on a teacher" for security, Boxer said in an interview with radio host Ed Schultz. The proposal would operate much in the same way as an existing program where National Guard troops are sometimes used by governors for drug interdiction efforts. A spokesperson for Boxer says about 2,500 soldiers now serve in such a capacity, and that the swap-with-cops proposal (or have National Guard members install security devices, etc.) would allow governors to seek reimbursement for such help from the federal government.

Money is, not surprisingly, a key concern when it comes to school safety proposals. Some quick math on the NRA proposal using national statistics and surveys of the median U.S. salary for police officers (plus benefits) suggests an annual cost of a police officer in every public school in the nation at close to $8 billion.

For California, it could be close to $1 billion, says Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto. Olsen says she began working on the idea immediately after the Dec. 14 Newtown, Conn. Mass shooting.

"I think the armed guards proposal is one that deserves serious consideration," said Olsen in a telephone interview on Friday. She acknowledges that some schools already have armed guards, and that many questions remain - for example, what would officers do during the summer recess?

Olsen says she's pondering proposed legislation on the topic once the Legislature reconvenes in January, but that it's too soon to say whether there's a workable idea. And money is a big issue, especially for a cash-strapped state like California.

"It's a significant amount of money," says Olsen, "but it really comes down to priorities."

Update 12:30 p.m.  The NRA's idea doesn't seem to have gone over well with Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, which raises doubts about any kind of similar legislation at the state Capitol in 2013.

"What's next?" he said in a emailed statement.  "Armed guards at Starbucks and little league games? This is completely the wrong direction."


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