Chief calls for extra firepower to protect schools
By BRIAN STANLEY Bstanley@stmedianetwork.com September 1, 2012 10:52PM
Colleen Curry shows off her online petition against guns in schools at Plainfield Central High School in Plainfield, IL on Friday August 31, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 3, 2012 6:15AM
PLAINFIELD — No one wants to think about a shooting taking place in a school.
“Unfortunately, part of my job is to plan for the worst-case scenario,” Police Chief John Konopek said.
Among his plans is a controversial one that has created a stir in his community and is the subject of debate elsewhere.
Konopek wants school resource officers to have access to more firepower in case of emergencies, and police have requested that the Plainfield School District 202 Board consider installing a gun safe — where a patrol rifle would be kept — in the police offices of four Plainfield high schools.
Some school and police officials don’t think such a measure is necessary. Some schools are near police stations, some have resource officers who are armed and have additional weapons in their vehicles, and some have no resource officer at all and say none is needed.
“Are we that dangerous of a society that this is a necessity? Personally, I’d like to think not,” said William Joyce, president of the South Suburban Association of Chiefs of Police.
Like most departments and school districts, Plainfield officers train for campus shootings every year and regularly meet with administrators to discuss ideas for student safety.
School resource officers carry their sidearms and, like all officers, are trained to use patrol rifles — semi-automatic weapons that typically use 20- and 30-round magazines. School shooting training shows a long gun, which is more accurate at longer distances, is considered more effective.
So police have requested the District 202 School Board consider installing a gun safe at the police office in four of the Plainfield High Schools where they will keep a patrol rifle.
“We hope it will never be (needed),” Konopek said. “But it’s another tool in the toolbox.”
Community High School District 218 Supt. John Byrne, who said he used to teach in Plainfield schools, said he thought the proposal in Plainfield was an “overreaction.” Byrne, whose district includes Eisenhower High School in Blue Island, Richards in Oak Lawn and Shepard in Palos Heights, said uniformed officers who patrol his schools carry guns and keep extra weapons in their squad cars.
“I do not feel like we need to stock their weapons,” Byrne said. “Should I install a (jail) cell next? An interrogation room? A SWAT team? It’s a bit of an overreaction. I don’t get it.”
Speaking hypothetically, Konopek said an officer would not go to the safe if he or she were on the other side of the building where an intruder was threatening students.
That scenario had occurred to Colleen Curry, of Plainfield, who has organized a petition urging the school board to reject the plan.
“I see it as a largely unnecessary expenditure for a risk that is nominal. It sends a message we’re a community of alarmists,” she said.
As the parent of a young son she expects will attend Plainfield High School, Curry “understands the fear” as school shootings are heavily covered by the media. She cited the National Center for Education Statistics showing the odds of a child being murdered at school are 1 in 2 million.
“There is no greater safety achieved with this weapon and it sends a bad message to parents and students alike about safety in our schools,” Curry said.
But Plainfield police would not be the first department to have or consider keeping rifles secured on school grounds.
Few departments were eager to go into detail about school security procedures, but Chief Justin Meyer acknowledged a rifle has been kept at Minooka High School for a couple of years. The rifle is secured in a gun locker to which only a school resource officer has a key.
“After the department trained for an active shooter, we thought it was a good tool to have and discussed it with administration,” Meyer said. “It hasn’t been an issue.”
Chief Jeff Wold declined to confirm whether a patrol rifle was kept at the Channahon campus, but said campus officers are armed and firearms are not left inside police vehicles.
“No matter what option each school and police officer decide for weapon storage, it is key the officers incorporate their choice for weapons storage into their training scenarios. Also it is vital the schools and police are on the same page when it comes to emergency response,” Wold said.
Bolingbrook and Joliet police said there are no plans to store weapons at their high schools.
“We had considered it prior to the recent local media’s attention. It just never progressed from there. None of our schools has approached us with such a plan,” Lockport Lt. Dave Draksler said.
Lockport, Joliet and Will County sheriff’s police officers are armed when on-duty at schools. The Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210 schools used armed Will County sheriff’s officers as resource officers.
“I don’t think it’s going to deter anyone (who’d attack a school) to know there’s more than one gun,” Curry said.
As of Friday, Curry had more than 350 signatures on the online petition, while Konopek, a father of two high schools students, acknowledged the proposal “touched a nerve with some people.”
A District 202 panel may consider the plan at a Sept. 19 meeting. The full board could consider it later this month.
“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback. (Others in) law enforcement have been completely supportive and it’s been pretty even, positive and negative, from the general community,” he said.
Contributing: Casey Toner and Susan DeMar Lafferty