By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
Law enforcement officials from across eastern Iowa this week told Congressman Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, they believe the issues of mental health and gun control need to be addressed in order to decrease school violence.
Iowa’s Second District Congressman held an hourlong conference call with law enforcement officials to discuss safety in schools. He said it was the first of a series of meetings he plans to hold with mental health professionals, parents, school administrators and to develop a strategy for dealing with school violence.
“We know this, too, is a complex issue,” Loebsack said. “I think we knew that before the Newtown event, as well. But we also know there aren’t any quick fixes. I’m here to be open minded about what all of you think we should be doing.”
The 14 police chiefs and sherriffs pointed to mental illness, school resource officers and background checks as key pieces to solving the school violence issue.
Among the officials who joined Loebsack on the call was Clinton Police Chief Brian Guy. One of the problems begging to be addressed, according to Guy, is the shortage of space available for mental-health patients.
“Even under an emergency committal basis, right now we are putting the cart before the horse. We will call to find out whether or not there is bed space available before an order is issued,” according to Guy. “And that’s certainly no way to provide this critical service to the customers if you will, of the state.”
Other law enforcement officials discussed the use of school resource officers as a means to offset any potentially violent incidents that could occur at a school. The Clinton School District has three SROs, which were formerly funded through a federal grant when they were first introduced in the mid 1990s. The costs were absorbed by the city and school district more than a decade ago.
“People would ask, ‘Wow, you have police officers in school. Is Clinton that bad?’ The answer is ‘no, Clinton is that good’ that we were proactive at the time. Now we see the value of school resource officers across the country,” Guy said.
Loebsack declined to take a stance on President Barack Obama’s gun control proposal, which calls for universal background checks and enact bans on military-style assault weapons.
He said he will seek input on the issue before he makes a decision.
“I want to hear from as many people as possible about what we should be doing,” Loebsack said.