Plan for armed retired cops in Palatine grade schools: Good safety move vs. too risky

A Palatine school district's plan to increase security by hiring retired police officers to serve as armed clerical workers is drawing mixed reviews from police, parents and experts.

Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson said he was thinking of ways to improve safety at the district's 15 elementary buildings and early childhood center before hitting on the idea of having the retired cops in front-desk jobs, ready to use their law enforcement skills when needed.

Besides providing armed security, the retired cops would answer telephones, collect students' lunch money and handle other matters in the front office. School board members Wednesday agreed Thompson should pursue the proposal.

Thompson said he's unaware of a similar arrangements elsewhere, adding that the district intends to work with parents and employees to inform them of the specifics and address any concerns.

Palatine chief: Yes

Palatine Police Chief Alan Stoeckel said he supports District 15's plan. Well-trained retirees would be in "protection mode," constantly monitoring to make sure nothing appears wrong, he said.

Stoeckel said retired police are well-suited to work with elementary schoolchildren.

"Police officers deal with children every day," Stoeckel said. "And 99.9 percent of the time, it's a positive interaction."

Thompson said the retired officers would be in civilian clothing and have their weapons concealed. District 15 already has armed police school resource officers in all four of its junior high buildings through agreements with the Palatine and Rolling Meadows police departments.

District officials said limits on police resources prevent them from having school resource officers in elementary buildings. Under Thompson's plan, the retired cops would receive about $20 an hour, along with medical and dental benefits.

Mixed responses

Reaction to the District 15 proposal differed among those who spoke to the Daily Herald and in social media postings.

George Winkler, who spent a chunk of his 30-year Elk Grove Village police career as a school resource officer, said he doesn't believe District 15's plan would be effective. He said schools can become more secure through increased use of existing technology, such as cameras, remote locking systems on doors and better screening of visitors.

"I really don't want any guns in school, even the police," said Winkler, who was stationed at Elk Grove High School and retired about five years ago.

Despite her anti-gun leanings, parent Carol Allain of Rolling Meadows said having a trained eye to watch for potentially dangerous situations would make schools safer. The retired cops could act as a confidant for kids while also being able to intervene should problems arise.

"They see things because of their street training that normal teachers and principals and assistant principals don't see," said Allain, who has two kids at Carl Sandburg Junior High School in Rolling Meadows. "We have a problem in this country, and nothing's being done. I think this is the catalyst to spark something to go forward."

Carolyn Geddis, whose daughters previously attended District 15 schools, was among those who said they don't believe guns belong in schools. She questioned whether the retired officers would be able to spot a threat if they're focused on other tasks.

"Mistakes are easily made when guns are involved," Geddis said. "This is a ridiculous risk for my school district to take. I'm vehemently opposed to this."

Danielle Smith of Palatine said in a Facebook message she would be in favor of hiring retired law enforcement officers to boost security, but she doesn't believe they should also take on clerical positions.

In grade schools?

Madison County sheriff's deputy Kip Heinle, a spokesman for the Illinois School Resource Officers Association, said resource officers most commonly are found in junior high and high schools.

Heinle, who works at Triad School District near St. Louis, said federal law allows retired cops to be armed in grade schools if they are qualified through their former department or the state.

"Basically, what you're getting is an armed security guard," Heinle said.

Educational Support Personnel Association union leaders have yet to receive the proposal for review, said Bridget Shanahan, a spokeswoman for the umbrella Illinois Education Association. The retired officers would be in the union for secretaries, clerical workers, nurses and classroom aides.

Shanahan said questions have arisen, including the possibility the retired officers holding secretarial or clerical positions would receive $50 extra per day for providing security. That would add up to about $9,700 more annually than colleagues considered unarmed employees, according to a memo from Thompson.

District 15 has about 12,800 students and covers all or parts of Palatine, Rolling Meadows, Hoffman Estates, Inverness, South Barrington, Arlington Heights and Schaumburg.

  Palatine Township Elementary District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson, right, will pursue a plan to use armed retired police officers in elementary schools in an effort to boost building security. District 15 school board President Lisa Szczupaj listens to Thompson at a meeting Wednesday night. Bob Susnjara/
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