Ohio school district, county sheriff arm teachers, but police chief voices concerns

Will Balling

Sidney Police Chief Will Balling. (Photo credit: Sidney Daily News)

The idea of arming teachers and other school staff stirred tension at a city council meeting in Sidney, Ohio, last Monday when the police chief voiced his concerns, the Sidney Daily News reports.

The school district voted in March to allow teachers and other staff to have access to guns located in biometric safes – which can only be opened using a fingerprint — placed throughout the school. The Shelby County sheriff’s office and reserve officers worked with training school staff participating in the program, but Sidney Police Chief Will Balling is concerned that using teachers as first responders in an active shooter situation could have dire consequences.

During the council meeting Balling expressed apprehension over the program’s lack of a plan in such a situation, and later told the Sidney Daily News that the program needs “a lot more work” adding that his “main concern is the safety of the kids and the teachers.”

Balling claims that although he was the one who originally set up a meeting to discuss using retired law enforcement and reserve deputies to have an armed guard in each of the school’s buildings, neither Superintendent John Scheu, who was not even present at Monday’s meeting, nor Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart have contacted him in regards to the current program.

“At that point, I was fine with them if they wanted to put officers in the school,” Balling explained. “I asked if they had a policy about guns in school. They had not developed any policy or procedure. They asked Sidney Police to help identify the teachers that would have the guns.”

However, Balling said he recommended to Scheu that any teachers that were to be armed should first undergo psychological testing and a background check, along with more adequate training.

“It takes more than shooting a target,” Balling said. “You have safety factors to consider — not a couple days of training,” also saying that there was a 70 percent chance that a teacher firing at a suspect during an active shooter situation would miss their target.

But according to Balling, Scheu was “not very happy” with his opinions.

In addition to concern over the biometric safes unintentionally being left open or misused by students, Balling also worried that when officers did respond, a teacher with a gun might inadvertently be shot when mistaken for the gunman.

Balling assured that in the small city, “We can have up to 10 officers there in two minutes.” But some argue that two minutes is two minutes too long during an active shooter situation in a school. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter was able to fire 154 rounds in less than five minutes when he killed 26 people last December.

Nonetheless, Scheu disagrees with a number of Balling’s arguments.

He explained that the school’s team was not “taking the place of police officers,” but rather could already be at the school “to take care of the threat of an active shooter immediately. We want a team in place, even if the police can arrive in minutes.”

In addition, Scheu said, “We do have a plan in place. This is not his call. We have first responder teams in all the schools. (There is) monthly firearms training, collaboration and training.”

He also reiterated that they have their own system laid out for psychological testing and background checks.

“The school security officer and the principal have interviewed the teachers,” he explained. “They determine who they want to have on the first responder team that are volunteers … the principal knows that individual as well as anybody. When a teacher is hired, they go through a background check.”

Still, Scheu told the newspaper that he wished Balling would have approached him before the city council meeting. “I would have preferred to air our differences in private and get those issues worked out instead of bringing it up to council without my being present to present my view,” Scheu said.

Scheu also claims that Balling is the one responsible for tension over the program. “He is still not accepting the fact that we are going to have security measures. He is the one that is making this an issue,” he said.