Gov. Martinez says retired cops could boost school safety

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Gov. Susana Martinez, in comments this week during a meeting with President Donald Trump and other governors, suggested retired New Mexico law enforcement officers should be put to work making schools safer.

The two-term Republican governor, a former prosecutor who has in the past touted her concealed carry firearm permit, said such an approach would require little training and could lead to fewer school shootings.

“I do see that there is a huge pool of retired law enforcement officers where municipalities and counties have actually invested a lot of money into training them, and now they’re retired,” Martinez said Monday at the White House, where governors were meeting with Trump.

Gun ownership and school safety issues have come under heightened scrutiny in recent days, after a Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Florida high school left 17 people dead. The suspected shooter, a 19-year old former student, used a semiautomatic weapon in the attack that he had legally purchased.

Governors around the country have also waded into the debate, with some calling for an increase in the minimum age to purchase an assault rifle – it’s currently set at 18 – and other gun control measures.

Martinez has not discussed her stance on such measures, and her office did not respond to questions about whether the governor supports Trump’s idea to allow some teachers to carry concealed handguns into classrooms as a defense mechanism. That proposal, supported by the National Rifle Association, has been blasted by many educators.

However, a Martinez spokesman provided comments the governor made during her visit to the White House earlier this week. She had traveled to the nation’s capital to take part in a National Governors Association meeting.

In her remarks, Martinez thanked Trump for listening to governors’ concerns, and said that allowing retired law enforcement officers to return to work as school security officers would be a cost-effective way to improve school security. Specifically, she said retired officers’ experience and training would be beneficial when it came to installing school security cameras and “keeping our schools and our school personnel safe.”

But state Rep. Patricio Ruiloba, D-Albuquerque, a former Albuquerque Police Department officer and school resource officer at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School, suggested that having more social workers in schools would be a better approach to school security than having more police officers.

“You can put as many cops as you want in a school, but if the students don’t trust them they’re not going to report anything,” Ruiloba said in a Tuesday interview. “I would prefer to hear the governor say that we need to have more social workers helping administrators.”

He also said having more social workers and counselors could lead to a greater awareness of students with mental health problems.

It’s unclear how many, if any, retired police officers are currently working in New Mexico schools.

Jan Goodwin, executive director of the Educational Retirement Board, said both the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University have hired retired police officers in the past, but she did not have data on retired officers working for K-12 public schools.

Under New Mexico law, retired police officers can return to work as school security officers while still collecting their pension benefits.

They cannot do that if they return to work for state law enforcement agencies, however, since New Mexico outlawed double dipping in 2010 due to concerns that it stifled internal promotions and strained a state retirement fund.

Martinez has supported legislation at the Roundhouse in recent years seeking to change the law, but such attempts have stalled in the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Meanwhile, a school resource officer, who was also a member of the local sheriff’s department, was on campus when the recent Florida school shooting occurred, but reportedly did not enter the school because he believed the shooting was coming from outside.

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