Under the Dome

Let veterans protect schools even if they’re not law enforcement, Mark Meadows says

In this Feb. 28, 2018 photo, a police car drives by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., as students returned to class for the first time since a former student opened fire there with an assault weapon.
In this Feb. 28, 2018 photo, a police car drives by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., as students returned to class for the first time since a former student opened fire there with an assault weapon. AP

Military veterans who want to protect schools as part of their “civic duty” could earn a federal tax credit and work in schools without being “deputized by local law enforcement” under proposals being put forth by a powerful House Republican.

Rep. Mark Meadows, who represents westernmost North Carolina and is chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, also proposed spending $1.5 billion on hiring school resource officers across the nation.

Meadows hopes several of the proposals can be attached to the STOP School Violence Act of 2018, which is expected to be voted on next week.

A divided Congress is looking to do something after 17 students and teachers were killed on Valentine’s Day during a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — the latest deadly mass shooting to shock the nation. Nikolas Cruz was indicted on 34 counts of murder and attempted murder Wednesday.

But Meadows does not favor stricter gun measures.

“Gun control is not the answer,” Meadows said. “The best and most effective path forward, I believe, is one that safeguards our schools from becoming ‘soft targets.’”

To that end, Meadows introduced the Protect America’s Schools Act, which would provide another $1.5 billion for the Community Oriented Policing Services’ School Resource Officer program, and the Veterans Securing Schools Act, which would allow veterans who are not law enforcement officials to serve as school resource officers.

Currently, school resource officers must be sworn law enforcement officials, according to the Department of Justice. Meadows’ bill would change that definition to include certain veterans.

Meadows said his veterans bill would streamline the process to “make it easier for them to provide a law enforcement protection without being truly deputized by a local law enforcement agency.”

He is working on additional legislation to provide tax credits to veterans who work in that capacity.

“If they do volunteer there is a small financial incentive to reward what they feel is their civic duty,” Meadows said. “It’s not meant to compensate them on an hourly basis, but just to recognize their willingness to participate as a responsible citizen in the community.”

But the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers said he is opposed to any lessening of the requirements for being a school resource officer.

“This has to be a sworn, certified law enforcement officer properly selected and specifically trained to work in a school environment,” said Mo Canady, who has been executive director for seven years. “This is not an armed guard situation. This is much more than that.”

Canady said there are about 20,000 school resource officers across the country. His group wants to see at least one in each of the roughly 100,000 schools in the nation. He said he would support Meadows’ Protect America’s Schools Act as long as it did not change the definition of a school resource officer.

Few of them will ever encounter an active shooter situation, he said. Instead the job requires them to work with students, developing relationships and gaining information to stop violent actions before they occur.

“This is a community-based policing program that certainly has part of its core protecting against violent events, but it goes so much further than that,” Canady said.

There was a school resource officer at the Parkland school at the time of the shooting. Scott Peterson, a Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy, did not enter the building where the shooting occurred, though he has defended his actions.

Meadows, who is also working on legislation to streamline and modernize the background check process, said there is not enough support in the House Republican conference for raising the age limit to purchase weapons to 21, a proposal floated by President Donald Trump after the shooting in Florida.

Brian Murphy: 202-383-6089, @MurphinDC