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West delays decision on arming resource officer

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By Ryan Lowery

There’s no perfect answer. That’s what Gino Zamora, legal counsel for West Las Vegas Schools, told the Board of Education Thursday night as he laid out the options for having an armed presence on district campuses.

Zamora told the board the district had three options that, due to requirements set forth by the district’s insurer, must be ruled out in order. In other words, in order for the board to chose option three, it has to deem options one and two not feasible.

Option one is for the district to contract a licensed member of law enforcement (who is not an employee of the district) to patrol campuses. The second option is for the district to hire private security whose officers have what is called a Level 3 license from the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Department.

The third option is to arm someone who is directly employed by the district, and who holds the same Level 3 license.

Much of the board’s decision rested on insurance matters, specifically insurance provided by New Mexico Public School Insurance Authority, or NMPSIA. Zamora told the board that if the district doesn’t follow the rules set by NMPSIA, it might not cover the district under its liability policy.

Zamora explored several scenarios with the board, posing situations like a citizen hearing of an active shooter on campus and rushing to the scene with a rifle “to help.” He pointed out that when police arrive at the school, officers would have a difficult time distinguishing a helpful citizen from the suspected active shooter.

 “That also raises an issue of something you’ve seen in the policy about concealed carry,” Zamora said. “Law enforcement shows up at a district where you’ve got a staff member with concealed carry, how does law enforcement know whether or not that’s the active shooter?”

In order for the district to select any one of the three options, it must first prove to NMPSIA that local law enforcement cannot provide security services. What level of protection that would entail seems loosely defined, but in general, Zamora explained the district must have written confirmation from the Las Vegas Police Department that it cannot provide dedicated protection, such as a uniformed police officer on campus throughout the school day.

Juan Montaño, a former chief of police for LVPD and current WLV school resource officer, told the board that when he was chief of police, his department had explored the idea of providing a school resource officer to the district, but decided against it because of the department’s staffing issues.

“I could tell you right now that it’d be kind of hard to compromise one of those (full time officers) that’s out there providing a service to our community to come in and provide a service to the school,” Montaño said.

Montaño’s words effectively ruled out option one for the board. Zamora told the board that option two, contracting a third-party company to provide security to campuses, is the most attractive option because the contracted security company must have the proper training, and it must obtain its own liability insurance.

Board member Christine Ludi questioned whether  the board should even consider option two, since there are no private security firms located in Las Vegas.

“That option is out the window,” she said. “If we have to get them from outside sources for them to locate that individual, or those individuals, here, would be more costly than us going with option three.”

Board member Patrick Marquez raised concerns about one officer being responsible for every WLV campus, since some of the district’s schools are located in a rural area.
Zamora said it’s an issue many districts struggle with.

“This might not simply be a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ districtwide decision, but it might be a school site by school site decision,” Zamora said.

Board member Linda Montoya shared Marquez’s concerns about one person being responsible for several campuses. She also had reservations about arming anyone on any campus.

“I don’t know if I want guns on campus,” she said. “I’m one of those who don’t like guns, and don’t want to see anybody shot. Having worked at the schools for 36 years, at all different levels, my thought is we have really good kids. We have really good families. We’ve got excellent teachers. I don’t see anybody coming after us. And I know that’s probably what Aztec (High School) said, and all these other schools, but I don’t know if I want guns on campus.”

Board member Ambrosio Castellano, who joined the meeting via video conferencing software, said he was “100 percent in favor” of an armed presence on campus, but he had concerns about the district losing its insurance by adopting the motion too quickly. He wanted to pursue the motion, but wanted to seek written confirmation from LVPD that they cannot supply an officer to the district so the district can comply with NMPSIA policy before moving forward.

“My recommendation is to go forward and just provide them with that documentation,” Castellano said. “I have no doubt in my mind that we can get that documentation very quickly and forward it on to the insurance agency.”
Chairman Marvin Martinez agreed.

“I’m sorry we’ve beat this around the bush so many times, but if we’re going to make a decision, it’s going to be in the direction of what we can do next,” Martinez said.
Board member Marquez left the meeting before the vote took place, but the rest of the board voted unanimously to provide direction to the superintendent, and to revisit the discussion at a later date.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the board:

  • Approved a financial assistance request for students to attend the 2019 New Mexico All State Music Festival.
  • Accepted a donation by Southwest Capital Bank for Valley Elementary and Valley Middle School.
  • Approved the purchase of a lot at 1600 Montezuma from Samaritan House. The district will use the lot to alleviate parking problems at Tony Serna Elementary School.
  • Tabled action on Audit Committee appointments because board members have still not been able to meet with committee members.