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Youth panel questions police plan

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By David Giuliani

Members of a youth panel on Monday expressed concerns with an effort to put officers in the schools, despite the police chief’s arguments in favor of campus security.

The Las Vegas Youth Commission, a city entity, took up the issue at its monthly meeting, with more than 30 people in the audience at the city’s recreation center.

Estevan Flores, a West Las Vegas senior presiding over the meeting, kept tight control over the meeting, banging his gavel when he thought speakers were out of order, cutting off speakers such as Police Chief Gary Gold, Las Vegas City Schools board member Ramon “Swoops” Montao and even his own father, Steve Flores.

The Police Department is asking the state Legislature to appropriate $500,000 to cover the costs of a resource officer program, which would include a coordinator, two armed officers and six unarmed security officers in each district.

Gold said the police respond all the time to incidents in both the Las Vegas City Schools and West Las Vegas districts. However, he didn’t have the numbers of calls.

“By no means are we saying our schools are bad. We’re great people in Las Vegas. But don’t fool yourselves. Something could happen tomorrow,” he said, using the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado as an example.

He urged people to stay positive about the issue.

“Negative things come out of everything. For some reason, our community points out the negative in everything. Five percent do this,” he said.

However, City Councilwoman Diane Moore, an adviser to the commission, said members of the community are entitled to their opinions.

Flores of the Youth Commission said the effort to get the officers was moving too fast and that he was concerned with what has happened with resource officers in other communities.

“We’re a little insulted that we had to find out about this on our own,” he said.

Gold said people often complain about procrastination in government.

“I want to move. Let’s stop being stagnant. Let’s learn from our experiences,” he said. “We’re concerned about violence in our schools.”

The chief said resource officers could help in two ways: Improve response times in the schools and make police response more consistent. He said they would only address criminal matters, not enforce school policies.

Although youth panel members complained that they weren’t informed about the officers plan, Gold and other officials said they promoted it during open school board meetings and that accounts were published in the Optic.

But Steve Flores, the youth panel member’s father, said more should have been done.

“We didn’t get notified as parents, and a lot of people are boycotting the newspaper,” he said, adding that the school districts can identify troublemakers without police officers posted on campus.

Pat Leahan of the Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center praised Gold’s dedication, but disagreed that the schools needed police officers.

Jane Lopez, a West Las Vegas Middle School teacher and former assistant principal there, said she didn’t think the schools needed a permanent police presence, even though she said she has called police many times as an administrator. She said it would be wiser to spend money on such things as mediation programs.

She also questioned Gold’s role in the issue as he is both the chief and a West Las Vegas board member.

“There’s a conflict of interest,” she said.

Jen Ha, a member of the Youth Commission, opposed the idea of officers on campus.

“We’re such a small community. You are making us into an Albuquerque. We’re not Albuquerque; we’re Las Vegas,” she said.

Another commission member, Nicole Martinez, a Robertson High School junior, said she would like everyone to reach a middle ground. She said the schools don’t need armed officers, suggesting that youth may be amenable to unarmed officers.

Councilwoman Moore said the school boards and police didn’t get information to the parents.

“I hope you heard the youth and the parents,” she told Gold.

West Superintendent Jim Abreu said student safety is a priority, but he said in the latest situation, there appeared to be a “failure of communication.”

The commission didn’t take a vote on the issue.