Douglas County schools to issue semiautomatic rifles to security staff

Denver Post – by John Aguilar

The Douglas County School District plans to arm its security staff with 10 semiautomatic rifles designed to provide a high-powered defense in the event of a shooting or other violent incident.

Richard Payne, director of security, said he made the decision to spend more than $12,000 on the Bushmaster “long guns” in January after noting his security officers, equipped only with handguns, were training “hand to hand” with the sheriff’s office, which used the larger weapons.  

“We want to make sure they have the same tools as law enforcement,” Payne said Monday of his eight armed officers.

The first few rifles should be ready for use within a month’s time once officers have gone through a 20-hour training course, the same one that commissioned police officers take. The rest of the guns will be deployed in August, he said.

Payne said all his security workers are former law enforcement officers who would keep the long guns locked in patrol cars.

“They will not be in the schools,” he said of the weapons.

Ken Trump, a national school security consultant in Cleveland, said he hadn’t heard of school security workers equipped with such high-powered weaponry.

Calls to the other large school districts in the Denver area indicate that Douglas County’s move is unique. Security workers in Denver, Aurora and Jefferson County school districts carry handguns, and security staffers in Cherry Creek are unarmed. The districts have school resource officers who are active members of law enforcement and carry police-issued weapons.

Trump said staff training should meet the same standard as law enforcement before having access to semiautomatic rifles. “Does the training rise to that of a fully certified police officer?” he asked. “It’s not something to do lightly. It better be well-thought-out.”

Dan Montgomery, a police and safety consultant and former police chief of Westminster, said the decision is “unusual.”

He also listed proper training and secure storage as major concerns when talking about military-style rifles.

“One accident in close quarters with these things could be devastating, not only to predators but to the students themselves,” Montgomery said. “I would make sure the decision is supported politically and socially.”

Payne said the decision to buy the rifles was his and the Douglas County school board had not discussed it or voted on it.

The Douglas County School District has 67,000 students.

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