- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2013

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

To arm or disarm?

That is a burning question after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as Vice President Joseph R. Biden prepares to inform President Obama on a way forward.

It doesn’t make sense at this juncture to even ponder whether armed school personnel, National Guardsmen or armed community patrols should occupy our schoolhouses.

Do we really want school janitors packing heat, coaches packing pistols in their duffel bags or teachers saying, “homework papers, check; lunch pail, check; six-shooter, check,” before heading off to teach his GED class at night?

This is the perfect time, if ever there was one, to rethink the deployment of our local police, the law enforcers responsible for protecting the public and preserving law and order.

“It is my belief that [the Metropolitan Police Department] should be constantly engaging with the entire community,” newly installed at-large D.C. Council member David Grosso told me. “As I stated on the campaign trail, I think that more police officers should get out of their squad cars and walk the beat to develop positive relationships within neighborhoods.

“Assigning officers to each school would not only promote safer schools, but also would help develop better relationships between MPD and the entire community, which would strengthen our neighborhoods,” he said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, has already introduced legislation that would dole out tax dollars to communities interested in beefing up police school patrols and electronic surveillance.

But here’s the rub: Her $50 million initiative is the typical liberal approach that leads to federal government dependency and federal government overreach in educational matters that should be left to the discretion of states and localities.

Also, the nationwide group Dignity in Schools said in a statement that schools’ police patrols create troubling consequences, including an unwelcome racial atmosphere.

“A police presence makes us feel unsafe and unwelcome in our own schools,” said Tanisha Denard, a youth organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition, a member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign. “Police are trained to stop and prevent crime on the streets, not to mediate problems that may come up between young people in a school. When we go to school, we go there to learn, to be students, not to be treated like criminals.”

The statement also said that instead of “creating safe and nurturing learning environments,” police patrols and discipline policies “have resulted in the criminalization of youth particularly youth of color — for minor misbehavior, like being late to school or talking back, that can be more effectively addressed by positive discipline measures like mediation, restorative justice practices and positive behavior and intervention supports.”

Their blowback underscores why the Obama administration and Congress should step away from Boxer-like proposals, even though both may find common, nonpartisan ground.

Local police need to know their communities’ hot spots and the “beefs” brewing between schools, neighborhoods and gangs that roam the streets looking to engage in dastardly deeds.

Rethinking how, when and where police are deployed would enhance public safety — and the decision-making should be left in the hands of local communities, not federal bureaucrats on the prowl for Starbucks’ new vanilla spice latte.

Let’s keep the safety of children in our sight line and put Officer Friendly back in our schoolhouses.

After all, police and armed guards patrol the White House, congressional office buildings and other federal facilities. Why not public schools?

Mr. Biden is expected to make his disarming recommendations to the president on Tuesday. But will he school Mr. Obama on this?

A Huffington Post poll of 1,000 adults said last week found that only 33 percent of white participants approve of the way the president has handled educational issues.

In other words, “Butt out, Mr. President.”

Debbie Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.