19 more police officers for city’s elementary schools?
Nearly two months ago, a lone gunman killed 20 first graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The horrendous slaughter rightly prompted government officials across the land to consider changes aimed at reducing the risks of violence to students and educators.
But that barbaric tragedy doesn’t justify approving every new proposal listed under the heading of “making schools safer.”
And while the Newtown nightmare requires more vigilance against this modern menace, it doesn’t necessarily require that the city of Charleston hire 19 new police officers to counter it.
However, Mayor Joe Riley, acting on recommendations from Police Chief Greg Mullen, is proposing bolstering the force for that purpose.
He’s also proposing a tax hike to pay for that extra school-security expense — and also for eight new police officers to patrol the peninsula’s “entertainment district” and for two new fire stations with accompanying equipment and personnel.
The proposed increase of 4 mils would add about $40 to the property tax on a $250,000 house.
The added tax burden would generate a projected $3.9 million in new revenue, with more than half of that going to fund the expansion of the police force.
The mayor will present that tax-hike plan to City Council on Tuesday night.
Chief Mullen has crafted a “cluster” strategy, with six three-officer teams protecting the 35 public and private elementary schools within the city limits on a rotating basis.
The chief cited “counter-terrorism” lessons learned from “some of the best thinking for security and violence reduction.” And the mayor has it right when he calls school shootings “domestic terrorism.”
Still, it’s reasonable to question whether the city can make significant improvements in school security without hiring 19 more police officers.
For example, schools must tighten policies on who gets into the buildings. In a column on our Commentary page, Mayor Riley also notes the use of impact-resistant glass in school doors.
Certainly an added police presence would act as deterrence. North Charleston, in response to the Sandy Hook massacre, has already put one officer in each of its public elementary schools, though without raising taxes to do so.
And installing one guard per school was recommended by the National Rifle Association after Sandy Hook — though the NRA would assume no responsibility for the expense.
Public safety is a fundamental government obligation.
But Mayor Riley’s tax-increase proposal casts too wide a net. It would fund extra police for elementary schools, extra police for the entertainment district and two new fire stations.
An informal public hearing called by City Councilman Mike Seekings on Thursday night drew about 30 people — and drew skepticism about the need for a tax hike.
City Council’s close consideration of this package contributing to an unexpected tax hike is in order. Council should measure the need for each component separately.
Mayor Riley points out that he hasn’t asked for a tax boost since 2007.
He also points out that the peril of school shootings hit home Monday: According to the authorities, a woman with a history of mental problems pointed a loaded handgun at two school staff members outside Ashley Hall on Rutledge Avenue — and pulled the trigger several times.
Fortunately, the gun didn’t fire.
The mayor identified that potentially “huge tragedy” as re-confirmation of the need for better school security.
Yet you can support better school security without signing onto a plan to hire 19 more police officers for school duty.
You also can acknowledge the entertainment district’s growing late-night load on the police without supporting a tax hike to hire eight more officers.
And before going along with the mayor’s tax-hike plan, City Council should exercise the due diligence required for such a policy shift and tax hike, essentially presented on an emergency basis.
The scrutiny of council’s public safety and finance committees is in order.