Shooting incident won’t cause Phoenix Union High School District to rethink resource officers

Dec 1, 2021, 4:35 AM
(File photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)...
(File photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
(File photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

PHOENIX — A shooting incident at Cesar Chavez High School on Monday won’t result in the Phoenix Union High School District rethinking its decision to remove school resource officers, Superintendent Dr. Chad Gestson said.

“This one incident would not make us rethink where we stand today with school resource officers,” Gestson said during a press conference on Tuesday, adding he believes the incident was isolated.

“In order to have safe campuses, I know that some believe that requires a school resource officer. The reality is that in our country today there are many highly safe schools that don’t have police officers, and there are also highly safe schools that do have them.”

A 15-year-old boy is accused of shooting a 16-year-old boy in a bathroom at the school at about 3 p.m. Monday after the older boy realized money given to him during the sale of the gun was fake and an altercation occurred, Sgt. Ann Justus with the Phoenix Police Department said during a press conference.

Gestson said the high school has 128 classrooms, many hallways, eight sets of bathrooms and nine buildings on 50 acres.

“To think that a school resource officer would have been exactly at that place at that time to prevent, I think, is not accurate,” he said.

Gestson added even when the district did have a school resource officer program there were only 10-12 to cover 22 properties and said campuses often did not have the presence of police officers.

School resource officers also did not participate in bathroom checks or ensure dismissal was safe, Gestson said, as that is the responsibility of school staff. The officers would instead help school staff manage issues, plan for crises and take reports on abuse and neglect.

“The expectation that school resource officers would provide safety at all times for every single person on every single property was just not reasonable,” he said.

The district last year decided to remove school resource officers from campus, opting for off-duty officers within their own districts to assist as needed with law enforcement matters.

The move saved $1.2 million that the district at the time said would be allocated toward a community-driven initiative on school safety. Phoenix Union High School District also has a safety plan that has been published that includes 12 components, Gestson said, a small part of that being law enforcement.

“School safety is not about school resource officers,” Gestson said. “School resource officers are a resource.”

The district following the incident increased safety and support protocols that would be in effect beginning Tuesday until further notice, including backpacks not being allowed, limited entry and exit points on campus, and extra law enforcement and school resources such as counselors on campus.

“The day after an incident is really important, it’s important to get back to normal right away,” Gestson said. “The way to do that is to increase presence and support.”

Gestson said the district does not have metal detectors, and the incident would not cause the devices to be added.

“We are a system of schools, we’re not an airport and we’re not a prison,” Gestson said. “We expect safety on our campuses but we do not want to contradict the promise that we made to our community which is our campuses will be welcoming and loving and supportive at all times and the presence of metal detectors is not what we are after.”

“There are other safety protocols, like today (Tuesday), that we put in place to ensure safe campuses.”

Gestson said the district always reviews incidents and revisits policy while also making sure the public has a voice in what school safety looks like.

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Shooting incident won’t cause Phoenix Union High School District to rethink resource officers