TERRE HAUTE —
Police officers, with full arrest powers, will be stationed inside all Terre Haute schools starting as early as April 1, officials for the city and the Vigo County School Corp. announced Monday.
The action can be taken upon approval of the Vigo County School Board, which approved the matter Monday night.
Currently, Terre Haute North Vigo High School and Terre Haute South Vigo High School have full-time officers at the schools, but that leaves 12 other city schools without a police presence, said Terre Haute Police Chief John Plasse.
“There has been no active shooter incident in any school in the U.S. that has had an armed officer present,” Plasse said. “I hope that trend continues and if we enact this security measure, we would do what I think is best for all the schools in the city.”
The annual cost is $353,000, with the Vigo County School Corp. paying about half at $176,000.
The city of Terre Haute will pay the rest, largely funded this year through a seized asset fund, said Mayor Duke Bennett.
Earlier this month, Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing announced he would seek funding from the Vigo County Council to place an armed officer in all schools in the county. For that, the Vigo School Corp. would pay $135,000, with the county matching an additional $135,000. The Vigo County Council will not vote on that measure until March.
“Many of the attackers stop their attack when officers arrive on scene, but we can’t afford to wait for that response, I don’t think,” Plasse said. “Active shooter incidents are usually over in a matter of minutes, but seconds count when there is no defense for an active shooter,” he said.
“By implementing this measure, a trained law enforcement officer will be there to deter any would-be attacker and also to confront them head-on should they decide to do something,” Plasse said.
Officers will also have radios, allowing them to immediately contact the county’s central dispatch center for a quicker police response, Plasse said.
The officers would be off-duty or retired officers from the city, as well as any other police agency in the area, such as West Terre Haute.
Superintendent Danny Tanoos, along with school board members Paul Lockhart, Pat Sheehan and Jackie Lower, voiced support of the police in the schools. Tanoos also had principals from all 12 schools that are currently without officers present at a news conference Monday at the school corporation administrative building at Seventh Street and Wabash Avenue
“We know with a police car outside the school, it is a deterrent. We also know with an armed officer, whether it is a male or female officer inside the building, they will be prepared to deal with many types of things,” Tanoos said.
“Not only an active shooter, but you have to think about the number of times calls come to a school over a domestic dispute,” Tanoos said.
Lockhart said he thinks the plan “is something that will provide long-term security, safety and comfort” to students, staff and people visiting the schools. Sheehan, a retired school principal, said a police officer in a building changes “the whole atmosphere of the building and that of people coming into the building,” he said.
Bennett said the city’s budget is tight, adding the city will use seized asset funds this year. Next year, Bennett will build in the expense of the officers into the city’s police department budget, likely funded from several sources other than property taxes, including possible state and federal grants.
“We never assume something could happen in Terre Haute, but I am sure the people in Sandy Hook never thought it would happen at their schools. Anything can happen at anytime, we know that,” Bennett said. “There is a price tag to this, but there is really no price you can put on a kid. I think we all agree and feel that way and [we] will make this work,” he said. “I think we are being proactive, not reactive,” the mayor added.
On Dec. 14, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot and killed 20 children and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Lanza had shot and killed his mother, Nancy, at their Newtown home prior to the shooting at the school. Lanza fatally shot himself after police arrived at the school.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or firstname.lastname@example.org.