The actions of an off-duty FBI agent — taking a gun to a Papillion elementary school — have ignited discussion that could make its way to the Nebraska Legislature.
A Papillion-La Vista parent, Glen Hading, noticed the FBI agent and asked the Papillion-La Vista school board about its policy on plainclothes officers having weapons in schools.
Nebraska law bans weapons on school grounds but makes an exception for on-duty law enforcement officers.
But the law says nothing about off-duty officers, and there’s no consensus among metro-area school districts.
Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov would like legislators to weigh in.
“I have to prove the facts and elements beyond a reasonable doubt,” Polikov said. “That’s a high burden when you have no definition of on duty and off duty.”
Polikov organized a meeting on Oct. 8 of school district officials and law enforcement agencies to determine whether there was a consensus about what approach would be appropriate.
Polikov said there is a general agreement in the Sarpy County area that officers are always duty-ready.
“It’s just a flick of an instant that changes from off duty to on duty,” Polikov said.
State Sen. Brad Ashford, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he hasn’t seen a push to address the matter in Lincoln yet but said he thinks the Legislature should look at it.
“My sense is that it’s probably a bigger issue than a school-by-school issue, because of the potential dangers,” Ashford said.
Iowa allows law enforcement officers to take guns to school when their duty requires them to do so.
Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber said he has never had to decide on such a case, but he probably wouldn’t charge an off-duty officer who took a gun to a school.
“I think that the law is at least unclear enough that I would never file that charge,” he said.
In Nebraska, other law enforcement officials also said the state law could stand to be clarified.
“If you read that statute, it can be interpreted a few ways,” Bellevue Police Chief Mark Elbert said. “I think it does need something to be tidied up and addressed.”
La Vista Police Sgt. Jeremy Kinsey, a member of the Papillion-La Vista school board, agreed.
“Personally I’m in support of any police officers, whether in uniform or plainclothes, being at the schools and being able to react to a situation if a situation came up,” Kinsey said. “That’s what police officers are sworn to do: protect.”
The Papillion-La Vista school district has no policy regarding the issue and doesn’t intend to change that, spokeswoman Annette Eyman said.
The district follows state and federal laws, Eyman said, and has procedures in place for handling such situations.
Building principals are aware of any parents who are law enforcement officers. If there is any question of whether a parent is in law enforcement, building principals ask for identification to verify, Eyman said.
“It’s our belief that our current practice is in line with what the current law states,” she said.
If parents have concerns or questions regarding individuals carrying weapons into schools, they should contact the building principal, Eyman said.
Eyman said that having officers in schools can be comforting for building administrators.
“It’s an added level of security knowing that we have some of those individuals in the school and at activities,” she said.
With a prominent military community, the Bellevue Public Schools ask that off-duty parents not carry their weapons into the buildings, district spokeswoman Amanda Oliver said.
“It’s mainly a conversation piece with the principal and parents,” Oliver said.
Omaha Public Schools officials aren’t working on the issue, district spokesman Todd Andrews said. He called the issue a law enforcement matter.
Polikov said the issue is far from being resolved.
“Changing the law sounds easy, but there will be a lot of positioning from different aspects of guns and gun control, from ‘Everyone should have a gun’ to ‘No one should have a gun,’ ” Polikov said.