The Kentucky House has passed a measure to require all school resource officers, or SROs, to carry a gun. The measure is headed to the desk of Gov. Andy Beshear for his signature.
“Law enforcement will not do the job of school resource officer work unless they can have the tools that they’ve been trained with, that they’ve been assigned and that they’ve been given to do their job,” Rep. Ed Massey (R-Hebron) said Friday on the House floor.
“We need to secure our schools,” Massey said. “We sit here every day in the chamber with armed officers outside these doors to protect us, and why should our children have any less protection?”
The bill is meant to protect against school shootings. Supporters of the legislation say it will ensure that police are prepared to return fire in the event of a school shooting. But the measure is controversial, especially in Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), where there have been talks of creating an unarmed school police force. Many in Louisville, like Rep. Charles Booker (D-Louisville) worry that arming SROs puts students of color on edge and at risk.
“The requirement for the firearm ignores a lot of realities that many of you in this room may not have had to deal with,” Booker said on the House floor before the vote. “There are going to be children that not only are not going to feel safe, but are going to be put in harm’s way because of the structural racism and challenges that we face.”
Before House lawmakers approved the bill, they voted down amendments that would have allowed local school districts to make the final decision on arming SROs, or required SROs to wear body cameras.
JCPS board member Chris Kolb criticized lawmakers’ decision in an interview Friday.
“It’s actually detrimental to school safety,” Kolb said, referring to academic research on SROs. “The only statistically significant evidence that is found in research is that they have a negative effect on school climate and culture.”
JCPS is in the midst of planning a new in-house police force. Kolb he would still prefer that force to be unarmed.
“If that overlaps with what the state wants us to do, that’s great,” he said. “But if it doesn’t then we’ll obviously have some discussions about what the law says and doesn’t say.”