LITTLE ROCK — The loss of 20 innocent and precious children in Newtown, Conn., once again reminds us in Arkansas that we must take urgent steps to increase safety and security in our schools.
Our state has experienced its own school tragedies that we must work to be sure are never repeated.
I have recently been asked to lead a comprehensive national effort to improve the safety of our schools. A part of this solution will be the increased presence of trained, armed and professional security officers in the schools. Currently, about one third of our nation’s schools have armed security.
We should leave no child unprotected. How do we this and who will pay for it? These are some of the questions my team of security experts will examine and make recommendations on within a short few months.
I have been fortunate to gain substantive experience in the public safety arena through my work as U.S. attorney, as head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and as a senior official in the Department of Homeland Security. Through these experiences, I have learned the balance of urgency and getting the job done right.
Our schools in Arkansas and our state Legislature want to do something, or anything, immediately. This is understandable and laudable, but I would caution that Arkansas can benefit from the recommendations on funding, legislative fixes and training that will be included in our school safety efforts.
There has been much debate in recent weeks on the issue of gun control and whether changes to current gun laws could improve our school safety. This has become a very emotional and heated issue across the country.
Growing up in Arkansas, hunting and enjoying our outdoors, I have a firm belief in our right to bear arms and how vital this right is to protecting our way of life. In my view, further control of firearms will not protect our children or make our schools safer. And that is the focus of this school-safety initiative.
We have seen several schools take steps to enhance safety by immediately increasing the use of trained officers on their property. But not every school can afford the costs, and not all armed officers are equally trained.
That is why it is so critical to create an effective federal, state and local sharing of costs, and, most importantly, to assure a high standard of training and certification. The training of armed personnel to protect our children should not be less than those who are trained to protect our airlines or even the president.
Finally, the safety of our children is more than just armed officers. It is about access control, perimeter security, surveillance, architecture, policies and drills. My school-safety task force will look into all of these needs and offer the best practices and model security protocols to our schools.
Our team will work through various approaches in the coming months. I envision delivering a comprehensive list of recommendations and proposals to be considered for improving the safety of our schools.
As our team begins working through this initiative, I would encourage you, my fellow Arkansans, to reach out with your ideas. The issue of school safety is too important to exclude any ideas from this discussion.
James Carville coined the expression “It’s the economy, stupid.” Well, after Newtown and Jonesboro, it is about the children.
Asa Hutchinson resides in Arkansas and is Senior Partner of the AH Law Group PLC.