POCATELLO — Schools in one eastern Idaho district are being equipped with gun lockers so school resource officers can keep rifles, ammunition and evidence close at hand.
Pocatello Police Chief Scott Marchand told the Idaho State Journal that the idea was adopted more than a year ago, and the gun lockers have already been purchased — it's not a reaction to the Dec. 14 deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
All of the school resource officers in the district are already armed with semi-automatic handguns, but Marchand said schools have hallways that are 50 to 100 yards long. In the event that a shooter came to the school, a trained officer could do more with a rifle than one limited to a sidearm, he said.
"Having that tool gives us another opportunity to protect students, faculty and staff," Marchand said. "I hope we never use them anywhere."
The chief acknowledged that some community members would likely be uncomfortable with the idea of putting more firepower inside schools, but he said the safes would be locked at all times except when officers are using them to access the rifles and ammunition or store evidence.
There are other districts in the nation that have gun safes, though Pocatello will be the first in southeastern Idaho.
Marchand spent 22 years as a member of the regional SWAT team before he became the police chief last year. While he believes the accuracy of a rifle in the hands of a trained officer could be a critical element in responding to an attack at the school, Marchand has serious reservations about arming teachers or others who aren't professional police officers.
"I can train anyone to shoot paper targets," he said. "But a real shooting environment is different. ... There's a lot more involved than simply shooting."
Pocatello's three high schools and middle schools have full-time school resource officers, but officers also visit the other schools in the district. Marchand hopes to have patrol officers visit the schools at least once a week.
"The plan is to be visible," he said.
Sgt. Ralph Daniels, who is in charge of the school resource officers, said the extra patrol presence has been appreciated. Daniels said the gun safes will be a welcome addition. Currently, it would take some time for officers to get a rifle in an emergency because rifles are typically stored in patrol cars, he said.
"This will increase our ability to respond quickly," Daniels said.