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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Hackett Police Chief Expresses Concerns Over Armed School Personnel

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To the citizens of Hackett,

     Over the last six years my department and I have worked hard to provide you with the best service possible.  Part of that service has been our continued support and great working relationship with the Hackett School District.  As a town with only one full time officer, myself, this often presents challenges but we have made it work.  The reserve officers on the department do a tremendous job contributing to the safety of our town and providing security at football games or other school functions, while also working their own full-time jobs during the day. As many of you know, a large portion of my time is spent at the school responding to various calls and providing security, periodic walk throughs, traffic control, etc.  We also have a great working relationship with the Sebastian County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies who’s K9 Officers assist with drug sweeps randomly during the school year.   

     Throughout these six years I’ve witnessed this community support both law enforcement and the school district faithfully.  As your police chief, I come to you, the citizens of Hackett, with a concern that is weighing heavy on my heart.

     On or around May 9, I found out by accident that the Hackett School District has decided to arm various teachers, faculty, and administrators for the next school year.  This decision was made without any input from the Hackett police department, city officials, or any other surrounding law enforcement agencies. While I respect the District’s decision-making authority, to not include local law enforcement in a decision of this magnitude is concerning to say the least.  For the reasons outlined below, I oppose the decision to arm our teachers.   

  • The District intends to arm several teachers, faculty, and administration.   For security reasons, I will not disclose the exact number, but I can say the number is in the double digits.  The introduction of multiple lethal weapons on campus drastically increases the chances of a child coming into contact with a weapon. 
  • The teachers will attend minimal training.  It is my understanding that the armed teachers will undergo a short sixty-hour training course.  Full-time law enforcement officers complete a minimum of 480 hours of training through the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy.  Reserve officers complete a minimum of 110 hours of training.  These are the trained professionals we need responding to incidents at the school.
  • Increased potential of a friendly fire incident.  Should an active shooter event occur, response will come from multiple agencies, most of whom will not be familiar with school staff or know which of them are supposed to be armed.
  • Teachers do not need the weight of this responsibility.  I honestly believe we have the best teachers in the state.  Knowing that any day you may have to take a life of a stranger – or quite possibly a student you have personally taught and have seen grow up – is a heavy and emotional burden to bear.  While I understand that this was done on a volunteer basis, to even ask our teachers to take on this responsibility adds a stressful and mental burden many did not expect to be taking on when they entered the teaching profession.
  • Lack of communication. Over the last few days I have spent time reaching out to Mayor Harper, fellow officers, chiefs, and other members of the judicial system for feedback.  All expressed concern and even shock that such a drastic decision was made and that it was made without any consultation from local law enforcement. All echoed my sentiment that safer, more effective options are out there.
  • Mental health. As many of you know, this year has been a challenging year with regards to mental health issues at the school that we worked hard together to address. Together we brought in different areas of training including prevention, motivational speakers, and the creation of a mental health board to search for answers.  Now introducing weapons into this environment creates even more risk and is a step backwards.
  • Lack of support on a national level. Numerous education and law enforcement agencies across the country oppose arming teachers at school.  Agencies such as the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, and the National Association of School Resource Officers.

     I have personally spoken with both Superintendent Eddie Ray and School Board President Jackie Terrell.  I explained to both of them that as Chief of Police of the city of Hackett, it is my duty to do what is best in regards to safety of the citizens of Hackett.  Those citizens also include the children of Hackett.  I cannot support this proposal due to risks it presents to the students, faculty, and fellow police officers of neighboring agencies.   Our conversations were cordial but at this time the plan is still in place to arm teachers, faculty, and other school personnel. 

     I recommend that all parties come to the table to find a solution.  I am willing to work with the school board, city council, Mayor, and whoever else is required to find a safer alternative to this proposal.  It is my understanding that the training that is required is coming up in a couple of weeks.  We still have time to come together and come up with a solution.  My personal recommendation is some form of School Resource Officer.  A School Resource Officer not only provides security, but can develop positive relationships with students. 

It’s my hope that we can come together and find a safer solution.

Respectfully,

Chief Darrell Spells

Hackett Police Department


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