Ridgefield School District extends contract for armed security guard

By Tyler Graf, Columbian county government reporter

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The Ridgefield School District has extended a one-year contract with a private security firm to provide an armed guard at Ridgefield High School.

The school district will pay Phoenix Protective Corp. $41,000 during the coming school year for on-campus security. Last year, the Spokane-based firm supplied the district with two guards, following a school board decision made after December's Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, Conn., left 26 students and teachers dead.

Eric Jacobson, the district's spokesman, said using the security firm would be cheaper than contracting through the police department. Most of Clark County's other districts have school resource officers who work for law enforcement agencies. Battle Ground Public Schools, for one, will pay the city of Battle Ground $43,034 for its school resource officer next year.

While the district's initial hiring of armed guards last January was greeted with mixed reviews by the community, Jacobson said the added security has allowed teachers and administra

tors to focus on their jobs. The campus, designed and built decades ago with multiple entrance points, is difficult to monitor, he said.

The district said the officers are trained to handle various situations, including searching students for weapons or drugs. Phoenix Protective Corp. requires its agents to receive 300 hours of training before being certified for school security.

"These agents receive the same training, or more training, than a school resource officer from a law enforcement agency," Jacobson said.

In addition to making patrols, the security officer will assist in identifying areas of the campus for installing surveillance cameras and additional fencing.

Ridgefield Police Chief Carrie Greene said she'd briefly discussed security with district officials, and her department had received an email Wednesday about the renewed contract.

She disputed the district's contention that the private guards receive "more training" than her officers. In the past, the police department provided the district with school resource officers who received specialized training in school security from the state, she said.

Greene agreed that hiring a private firm would save the district money, however. The district stopped using resource officers because there wasn't money available to pay for them.

"It's cheaper to hire a security guard for $10 an hour than a police officer," she said.

The school district plans to renew its contract with Phoenix Protective Corp. on an annual basis, if there's money to do so.

Tyler Graf: 360-735-4517; http://www.twitter.com/col_smallcities; tyler.graf@columbian.com.