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Frank Gray

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Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Fort Wayne Police officer James Payne jokes with Saira Makic, a junior at North Side High School, on Wednesday afternoon. Fort Wayne Community Schools has used resource officers for years.

Officers in schools now necessity

I remember the good old days when the biggest thing many people had to worry about was a burglar breaking into their home while they were away and stealing what little they had that was worth owning.

Back then, newspapers would occasionally do stories on how homeowners could protect themselves. They’d interview the police, who offered only depressing news. There is no way to protect yourself against burglars, they’d say. If a thief was determined to get in, he’d get in. The best people could do was secure their homes and slow down and discourage burglars, who like to get in and out fast.

You don’t hear much about burglaries these days. It’s the mass shootings, people finding ways to get into movie theaters and schools and opening fire for reasons we are never able to explain.

One of the first responses to the question “what do we do?’ after the shootings in Connecticut was a call for armed guards in schools. The suggestion was widely jeered.

I think of the high school I attended. It had an administration building, an industrial arts building, a physical education building, a library building and three different units with classrooms, with students traveling between buildings each period. Securing a school like that would be a nightmare.

Most schools, though, are single buildings and easier to secure.

It’s sad to think that we have to turn our schools into fortresses, but it’s happening. In convenience stores, clerks are sheltered behind presumably bullet-proof windows an inch and a half thick. Some banks have police officers sitting in their lobbies.

Curiously, though the idea of armed guards in schools was derided as laughable by some, it’s not an uncommon practice. In fact, that has been the practice in Fort Wayne for years.

In Fort Wayne, school doors are locked as soon as classes begin. If you want to get in, you have to speak to someone over an intercom and be buzzed in. Schools have security cameras so school officials can see who is outside. Theoretically, the cameras would alert officials inside if someone was approaching the school with a rifle or a bag of rifles.

Of course, one thing we’ve learned is that madmen don’t knock. In Connecticut, after a lot of misinformation was initially distributed, we learned that the gunman there shot his way into the school.

That is something we have to realize. If someone is determined to get into a school building, they will find a way, and the most logical way for a gunman to get in is to shoot.

In Fort Wayne, some high schools have what are known as resource officers. That’s a non-threatening term for an armed police officer who is on hand at a high schools and on and off in other schools.

Having armed and trained personnel does serve as a deterrent.

Oh, we can talk about banning different weapons, but madmen aren’t fazed by such things. Look at the mass shootings that have happened in America. They’ve involved handguns, rifles, shotguns, even .22s.

The key is being prepared for madmen, but above all detecting them before they act and taking action to prevent further tragedies.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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