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Updated: Thursday, 28 Feb 2013, 9:14 AM EST
Published : Wednesday, 27 Feb 2013, 6:02 PM EST
NOBLE COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) - The Noble County sheriff has a plan to help keep kids safe in school. He had the idea before the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary last December. But, the tragedy prompted him to come forward with what some call a bold move: arming staff inside every school in the county.
"We have teachers in all these shootings that put themselves in front of the madmen trying to kill their students. They end up dead. I think those kind of people, in those kinds of settings, if they had the ability to fire back, would do it," Sheriff Doug Harp said.
Harp's plan would make some educators in every school special deputies. Those special deputies' duties would be limited to carrying a concealed weapon inside the school and having the ability to respond with deadly force in the case of an active shooter in the building.
"We're trying to reduce the amount of casualties. If we do nothing, we're still at the same place we were five, ten years ago," Harp said.
In the months since Harp first presented his proposal to the Noble County school boards, some training has already begun. The Noble County Commissioners are still discussing concerns, citing liability issues.
"We can't keep saying, 'What if, what if, what if,' because all you're going to do is nothing because you're worried about liability. I'm worried about making our schools safe," Harp said.
Central Noble Community Schools is moving forward with training some staff. East Noble and West Noble school districts are still considering the idea. Some West Noble staff members have already started training to help the corporation make a decision on the program.
"There's always the risk that an innocent child could be hurt. However, doing nothing, we have the risk of many, many innocent children being hurt, so we have to weigh that out," Ann Linson, the superintendent of East Noble School Corporation, said.
Some of the people taking the training might not actually be the ones carrying weapons in school.
"Some school administrators just wanted to see what's involved before they can make decisions. It's a very critical decision. I think it's important that some of those folks who may not be interested in carrying concealed know what the training is," Harp said.
The average law enforcement response time to an active shooter situation is eight to ten minutes, according to Noble County Deputy Shafter Baker, who is in charge of the teacher training.
"By having emergency responders in the classroom, you put weapons where the fight's as. They're already there. They don't have to wait for us to show up and by doing that, you have the potential to intercept, engage and stop the loss of life," Baker said.
If a staff member volunteers to become a special deputy, the training would start with the pre-basic firearms class. To get an exclusive look inside what the training entails, NewsChannel 15's Alyssa Ivanson joined educators and went through the course.
Part of Sheriff Harp's program's success depends on not knowing who may or may not be carrying a weapon inside a school. For that reason, NewsChannel 15 is not revealing the identity of any of the educators in the training.
The classroom training came first. There was an in-depth discussion of Indiana law and the use of deadly force.
"They are technically law enforcement officers so they need a thorough understanding of the legal foundation for the use of force," Deputy Tim Cain, who is also a retired prosecutor, said.
Some of the educators had significant experience with firearms through target shooting and hunting. For some, however, it was the first time they handled a weapon.
"I was nervous about what we'd be expected to do," a female educator said.
For the training, the educators use a .40 caliber Glock but the special deputy school staff would actually carry a smaller handgun inside the schools. Sheriff Harp said there shouldn't be concerns that students could accidentally see the concealed weapon.
"There's literally a holster for every gun style and every place you want to hide a weapon," Harp said. "On any given day, there's people walking close to you that have concealed weapons. They're very difficult to locate."
Still in the classroom, there was extensive training on how to safely hold and fire the handgun and make sure it's clear of any rounds. Everyone was also taught to field strip and clean the weapon. Once everyone was comfortable with weapons safety and the rules of the range, the educators put what they were just taught into practice.
On the Ligonier Police Department's firing range, dozens of drills helped the school staff members learn to engage a target by concentrating on proper form and fundamentals.
"I thought it was very thorough. It helped me to understand what we're doing and what the expectations would be," the female educator said.
Another educator said he felt a lot more comfortable around handguns after the training.
"Before I had no idea. That's why I took the training,"
He added he's not ready to carry a concealed weapon inside his school, but he's more open to the idea now.
The first day of firearms training ended with qualification. The educators had to complete the same shooting test law enforcement officers have to pass.
"They are the same people working with reserve officers, our regular officers and they're going through same process so we can say, 'Hey, this is what we scored in firearms training.' It's comparable to what our officers do in their pre-basic firearms training," Central Noble Superintendent Chris Daughtry said.
All the students in the pre-basic firearms classes so far have passed the required qualifications. And the training doesn't stop after the pre-basic class.
"A lot of people have the impression we want to arm the school system in our county so we're handing out weapons. There's so much more to it than that. The level of training is imperative, critical and crucial," Harp said.
There will be more firearms training and a physical tactics class.
"We deal with how to protect your weapon, gun retention, gun takeaways, things to do to protect yourself and your weapon," Harp said.
Baker added the final exam of sorts will be a "high stress shoot that will give them the effects of being in combat."
An educator that completes all the training is not, however, guaranteed to have special deputy status.
"If somebody's not up to speed with training, they're not going to be in a position where they're going to have arms," Harp said.
The school staff who become special deputies would also have to keep up with continued training and qualifications to maintain their deputy status - just like other law enforcement officers.
"There are four qualifications a year. The one we did was static. As the training goes on, they do more dynamic qualifications- fewer rounds, but they're moving. They'll be shooting in low light conditions to simulate what they might encounter in a school," Harp said.
The teachers also have to pass a psychological evaluation, just like officers do.
"I waiver on it. There are times I think it's a knee-jerk reaction, but then you get a call that a potential person is coming to your school with reasons you don't know why and to think that you don't have any means to stop them is scary," another educator who went though the training said.
Some schools have School Resource Officers already. Harp's plan wouldn't replace the officers.
"If I'm the School Resource Officer, I would love to know there's other people in that school who can come to my aid. If a shooter incapacitates the SRO, there's no one to protect that school," Harp said.
Perhaps the most compelling part of the training was a chilling video of the Columbine massacre. The ten-minute video showed how the gunmen had free reign inside to kill students before they killed themselves. In Columbine, a county deputy did work in the high school and shot at the boys but missed.
"That's one thing that really struck me as, 'Wow. I do see why being armed in the school would be beneficial if that would happen.' It's just a scary thing to think about either way," an educator in the training said. "[Arming teachers and staff] goes against my philosophy of keeping schools safe, but after today I might reconsider that."
The female educator also has children in the school system.
"If you have to choose between arming teachers and worrying about the safety of our kids, then we do maybe have to look at arming teachers," she said.
Everyone involved in the training said they were reassured that the program would be voluntary and the staff member could decide to stop participating if he or she wanted. The educators all said seeing the amount of training that is required changed their op
Harp added that arming staff members would not replace any other security measures in place and would not stop new precautions from being implemented.
He hopes the knowledge that some educators inside a school are armed will act as a deterrent and prevent a shooting from happening.
"If we can prevent even just one of the cases because someone was thinking, 'I've been bullied all my life and want to take revenge, but I'm worried about doing that because there are people in there that might react.' then we've done what we need to do," Daughtry said. "We hope we never have to use any of this."
Daughtry and Harp also stressed that arming any staff members wouldn't replace or change any of the other safety measures in place.
"You can only lock down buildings so far. It didn't do any good in the tragedy in Connecticut," Daughtry said. "This is the next level of protection."
The gunmen in school shootings is often a student or former student. Harp said they are helping prepare the educators for the possibility of shooting one of their students. He added law enforcement officers sometimes face similar situations of confronting people they know.
"Mentally you have to be able to step up," Harp said. "If someone is intent on
hurting you or killing you or your loved ones or your students, then you have to do what you have to do."
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