In response to deadly school shootings across the nation, the Rio Rancho Public School Board is considering arming school security guards. A vote is expected Monday evening on a proposal to allow guards to carry firearms – with plans to eventually hire enough to station at all 20 schools in the district.
Like many school districts, Rio Rancho already has "school resource officers;" there are three armed, sworn police officers who rotate among school in the district. Michael Baker, the district’s Chief Operations Officer and a former Rio Rancho Police Chief, says the City of Rio Rancho employs each of those officers at a cost of about $100,000 per year.
The new proposal would allow security guards, paid about $45,000 a year, to carry the same types of handguns as police officers, though they wouldn’t have the authority to make arrests.
Baker says the armed guards would have to be ex-law enforcement, corrections, or military.
"They have that experience, they have that training," he said, "so we feel pretty comfortable with the fact that we’re just not hiring somebody off the street. We have very strict guidelines as to who we’re going to give those weapons to."
The armed guards would also have to undergo various trainings and medical and psychological screenings, and pass a background check.
Baker says the district already employs a number of security personnel who meet those qualifications, so if the proposal passes, they would likely be able to arm between six and 12 guards right away. The district would then prioritize stationing guards at the two high schools, followed by the middle schools, and eventually at all sites including elementary schools.
A survey by an independent firm found a majority of Rio Rancho community members supported arming guards. Several parents have spoken against it at recent school board meetings.
At a school board meeting in September, board members brought up concerns about liability and increased insurance costs associated with arming personnel. Baker says that because the district has no history of employing armed guards, their insurance carrier assured them that premiums will not increase "unless there was some demonstration that this program would not be managed appropriately."
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