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Oct. 5, 2022

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Uvalde rekindles school police officers’ concerns

Mass shootings have exacerbated their already difficult job

3 Photos
Student resource officer Tony Ramaeker, from Elkhorn, Neb., heads up an escalator while attending a convention  July 5 in Denver.
Student resource officer Tony Ramaeker, from Elkhorn, Neb., heads up an escalator while attending a convention July 5 in Denver. (david zalubowski/ Associated Press) Photo Gallery

AURORA, Colo. — Tony Ramaeker averages around 14,000 steps a day as he walks around the Nebraska high school where he is assigned to work as a sheriff’s deputy, greeting students arriving in the morning, wandering the hallways to talk to them and watching out for those who might be eating alone in the cafeteria.

The former Marine and longtime youth pastor keeps his office in suburban Omaha stocked with treats such as Little Debbie snacks and Pop-Tarts because eating helps kids in crisis calm down and talk.

But in the back of his mind, a thought always looms: What would he do if a gunman attacked the school?

The latest reminder of that danger came in May when 19 children and two teachers were killed in a fourth-grade classroom in Uvalde, Texas. The fear that the next shooting could happen in their hallways hangs over school resource officers across the United States, exacerbating an already-difficult job: They’re called on to be battle-ready officers whom parents and students can trust to protect them while not making students feel uncomfortable or targeted.

Reminders of the threat of school shootings were omnipresent at a recent National Association of School Resource Officers conference in Colorado where hundreds of officers gathered for training.

An exhibit hall featured booths with businesses selling ideas to stop the next school shooter, like door locks, and simulation machines to mimic shootings. One business showed off foldable semi-automatic rifles it said one school resource officer takes in a Hello Kitty backpack to his school in Alabama.

“Mom and Dad don’t want to see this weapon in their school, but it’s got to be there,” said Dan Pose, CEO of Gulf Coast Tactical, which sells the rifles.

Officers also sat in on sessions to learn about what has gone right and wrong in past school shootings. In one of those, they heard about the failure by a school safety monitor to send out an alert when he initially spotted the Parkland, Fla., school shooter walking onto campus. The armed school resource officer accused of hiding during the shooting was later charged with being criminally negligent.

In another session, officers got a briefing on a 2019 school shooting in Colorado, in which a private security guard who was secretly armed accidentally wounded two students.

A Colorado county sheriff also pointed to a more subtle failure in the response to that fatal 2019 shooting: Officers unnecessarily traumatized evacuated elementary students by having them line up with their hands on their heads even though authorities knew the gunmen involved were either teens or adults.

“That right there will last a lifetime,” Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said, pointing to the photo of the children, one of whom has her hands folded in prayer instead. Later, he said he wanted to encourage school officers to use their discretion and find ways to minimize trauma to children.

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