John Douglass: Why Shawnee Mission Schools police have access to assault rifles

The Shawnee Mission Schools director of safety and security explains the 2015 purchase of semi automatic rifles for school police.
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The Shawnee Mission Schools director of safety and security explains the 2015 purchase of semi automatic rifles for school police.
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Mary Sanchez

Mary Sanchez: Arming Shawnee Mission school district’s officers with semi-automatic rifles provides added measure of security

By Mary Sanchez

msanchez@kcstar.com

June 12, 2017 06:32 PM

Who would you rather have armed in your child’s school?

A commissioned police officer? Or the biology teacher? How about a coach who might or might not save the day?

Choose the police officer. He or she is trained to handle every parent’s nightmare: an armed shooter. Officers are required to continually retest for firearm proficiency. They drill to coordinate with city police and plan for the most horrific scenarios.

In several area school districts, commissioned police officers working as school resource officers have access to semi-automatic weapons.

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Most people aren’t aware of this because the long guns aren’t ever seen. They’re kept locked in squad cars or secured inside the schools.

“They are there as a last means of resort to protect the kids,” said John Douglass, Shawnee Mission School District’s chief of police.

Douglass didn’t sleep well Sunday night. He woke about six times. He’d read The Star article online about the eight semi-automatic rifles available to his seven district resource officers and a supervisor.

He knew the news story would stir tensions come Monday.

For Douglass, discussions about the article also sparked memories of the shootings in 2014, when a neo-Nazi with a history of anti-Semitism murdered three people at the Overland Park Jewish Community Center and a nearby assisted living facility.

Douglass was Overland Park’s chief of police then, a job he held for nearly 20 years. He spent years working alongside leadership within the Jewish community on security plans.

It wasn’t enough. Three people were killed by shotgun blasts.

Douglass watched the surveillance video of the lone officer inside the community center who was armed with a pistol. The officer never fired. At that range, a bullet wouldn’t have reached the avowed white supremacist who was shooting out the center’s windows with a rifle and a shotgun.

“I thought about how seriously under-gunned he was,” Douglass said of the officer.

About a year and a half ago, Douglass ensured that the Shawnee Mission School District’s commissioned officers had access to semi-automatic rifles.

Four of Douglass’ nine grandchildren attend Shawnee Mission schools. On the day in 2012 when 20 children were murdered by a shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Douglass’ eldest daughter called him. She asked him what he, the chief of police, was going to do to protect children from such an unthinkable tragedy.

His answer: Not on his watch.

Douglass speaks adamantly about his responsibility: “I swore to myself I would never fail to do everything that I possibly could to protect kids when I took this job.”

Douglass is in Dallas this week, attending a conference on school safety. He’s surrounded by career law enforcement officers who now work for public school districts, colleges and universities. They share his greatest fears.

He respects the view of those who say they don’t want any guns in their child’s school.

“If school shooters would stop using long guns in schools, our officers wouldn’t have them, either,” Douglass said. “We wouldn’t need to.”

But here’s the problem. Guns are too easily accessible for the dangerously mentally ill, for criminals, for people with hatred so deep that they lash out with violence.

We shudder at every mass shooting. But politicians and a huge swath of the public aren’t concerned enough to do anything about it.

The Missouri and Kansas legislatures are filled with people foolish enough to think that arming virtually everyone is a good idea. You can’t tell them otherwise.

So we need to do what we can. The smartest thing is to ensure that police officers, people who can be held accountable by chiefs like Douglass and who are answerable to school boards, are the only people armed inside schools.

About a year ago, one of Douglass’ officers proposed a new emblem for the police securing Shawnee Mission schools. He thought a sheepdog would be appropriate.

Because it’s their job to protect the lambs.