The good news: Abington Township’s school board has a chance to show the rest of the country how to have a thoughtful discussion about a hugely controversial topic.
The bad news: They’re in this position because of a board member’s shocking comments about armed police in schools at a Jan. 21 meeting — comments that went unchallenged, and for which the board member later apologized.
Tamar Klaiman, elected in the blue wave that swept the Philadelphia suburbs in November, first asked if school police officers were required to carry firearms. When a fellow board member said he was not aware of a legal requirement, she responded, “I have concerns about anyone carrying firearms in schools. I wanted to be sure there is not a legal reason to require them to carry them.”
Klaiman continued, “I mean this might not be the appropriate venue or time to talk about this, but there is a lot of evidence that anyone carrying a firearm within a district building puts kids at risk, particularly students of color. We know that black and brown students are much more likely to be shot by police officers, especially school resource officers, than other students, and I have serious concerns about anybody in the building having firearms, regardless of whether or not they are police.”
This is nonsense. Abington police officers have protected local schools for decades. They have never shot a student. Klaiman cites “a lot of evidence” but doesn’t name one example. That’s because there aren’t any. Sometimes, unfortunately, police officers have not been able to protect students, but there have been no instances of officers shooting unarmed students in schools.
Despite the outrageousness of these claims, no one challenged them. One board member simply stated, “What I can do is provide you with the memorandum of understanding and any policies that pertain to firearms in our schools, and also anything that governs the school police officers.” Later, another said, “Our school police officer is a fully certified or licensed police officer with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ...”
Then Klaiman said, “These officers also shoot people, pretty regularly, so ...“
Still, no one challenged her. So, let’s address this brutal, shocking allegation. What police officers, anywhere in America, are shooting people pretty regularly? None. These false allegations are an insult to the men and women who dedicate themselves to public safety.
The Pew Research Center studied what Americans believe about the frequency of police officers firing their guns. Three in 10 adults estimated that police fire their weapons a few times per year while on duty. Most Americans (83%) say officers fire their weapon at least once in their careers, outside of firearms training or a gun range. Neither perception is true.
Three-quarters of all officers never discharge their service weapon while on the job. Of those that do, many don’t actually shoot someone.
Klaiman apologized shortly after the meeting and deserves credit for showing more contrition than we see from most politicians who get themselves in hot water. As reported by 6ABC, she said, in part, “I said something that I deeply regret and for which I would like to apologize. I am proud of the relationship between the Abington School District and the Abington Police Department in our community. … What I said was offensive, and I am sorry.”
Of course, her comments had already sparked outrage from national law enforcement organizations and local calls for her resignation. The school board is planning a public hearing on the topic Tuesday.
That’s where Abington can really step up.
Whether to place armed police officers in schools is certainly worthy of intense debate. However, casually throwing about buzzwords fashionable in the echo chambers of social justice merely exposes a lack of depth that is unsettling given the seriousness of the issue. Equally unsettling is a feeble response about producing documents and memos. This was a huge opportunity missed.
So, on Tuesday, talk about student safety, openly and honestly. Let Klaiman and others express why they have concerns about guns in schools or feel unsafe around police. But let the police demonstrate how this decades-long relationship between local officers and students not only promotes safety but contributes to building bridges that are essential to any thriving community.
What happens in local government has a far greater impact on our day-to-day lives than Washington or Harrisburg ever will. Yet the elected officials closest to us get the least exposure — unless there is some controversy. With controversy can come further polarization among citizens. It doesn’t have to be that way, and Abington can demonstrate that Tuesday night.