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Police want officers at schools

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By Don Pace

Las Vegas police say they’re still working on getting the money to put resource officers into the schools.

The Las Vegas City Schools board received an update recently from Police Chief Gary Gold and Officer Shawn Montoya on a plan that would put resource officers on school grounds.

“Shawn Montoya, the grant writer for the Las Vegas Police Department, is working very, very hard to try to get this proposal together so that we can have school resource officers at Robertson High School and West Las Vegas,” Gold said.

Montoya told the board the goal of the project is to make schools safe and, in turn, a better learning environment. He said area lawmakers are supporting the effort and will submit a bill to the state Legislature for funding. Montoya said he was also in the process of writing a grant to bring in money for more security officers.

“We want to have enough resource officers for both school districts,” Montoya said.

Montoya said there would be resource officers at both school districts but that the intention is simply not a show of force.

“No, we’re not here for a show of force. You have your own policies concerning discipline; ours is a support role,” Montoya said.

Board member Philip Leger said he understood there would be officers at the two high schools but asked if the middle and elementary schools would be included.

Gold said he hoped that one day there could be enough resources to have an officer at every single school, but he said money is always an issue.

“Our goal is to try to get as many officers as we possibly can in the schools, but right now we will probably be able to only get one officer assigned to each school district. The middle schools from both sides have asked me for an officer, but the superintendents will decide where the need is. They could be at the high school or may have to go an elementary school to deal with an issue. But I want to make clear these officers will not be enforcing school policies,” Gold said.

Gold said sometimes there would be a fine line between school policy and criminal activity. He said set guidelines between his department and the schools will provide consistency in how resource officers are used.

“Once an action crosses the threshold into criminal activity, we want to have some consistency within the Las Vegas Police Department or any law enforcement agency that responds,” Gold said.

Board vice president Ramon “Swoops” Montao said he had recently met with members of the Farmington school board whose program Las Vegas is looking to for guidance. He said they told him that overall they were pleased with their program.

“They felt they were able to stop a lot of school violence due to the fact that they have resource officers available, not only at the high school but at the elementary level. Schools tend to try to handle situations when a crime has been committed. I think this takes liability off the schools when a crime has been committed, law enforcement is there, and they’re handling the situation,” Montao said.

Montao said he had heard, among other things, concerns about officers carrying guns in schools. He said when it comes closer to carrying out the program, people would have an opportunity to voice those concerns.

Gold said resource officers would fall under his purview.

“We want to make sure we’re following all the proper procedures — this is for the benefit of our children, and I think that should be what it’s geared to and that should be our focus.”

Board member Patrick Romero wanted to know about the training and wondered about the department’s resources.

“With the shortage that you’re facing already, will we be able to get officers for your needs and our needs?” Romero asked.

Gold said the program would help his agency because it is flooded with calls from the schools and other places.

“If we can eliminate some of the calls that we have to respond to at all the schools in town, we can free up our officers to respond to calls within the city and focus on things like DWI enforcement and traffic,” Gold said. “It will really be a plus; it will be a benefit. Of course, we have to get funded before we jump the gun, but we wanted you all to know this would be good for everybody if we’re able to get funded.”

Board president Elaine Luna said that if she and the board could do anything to support the application for the grant, they would be there to do that.

“Whether it be letters of support or working with the community we would be happy to do that,” Luna said.

Montoya readily accepted Luna’s offer of support, and Robertson principal Richard Lopez said his school already had a lot of the data that had been requested by the Police Department.