Rep. Rutherford: Stopping school violence 'about how much we want to pay'

By Kent Justice - Anchor/reporter, Staff

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After the mass shooting at a South Florida high school, News4Jax anchor and political reporter Kent Justice interviewed Republican U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, who represents the 4th District of Florida, on Thursday.

The former Jacksonville sheriff said school safety, in his mind, comes down to financial commitment. 

Here's the portion of the interview concerning school safety, which will appear on This Week in Jacksonville at 9 a.m. Sunday:

Kent Justice: This week, even since we spoke last week, more has come out in what happened in the shooting. I think what really has been, a lot of people coming together and saying, "We’re not going to just let this lie. We’re not going to just hear about, 'we should change things.' We want change." What do you think about that, and what are the changes you could see really happening on the federal level in Congress, or even at the state level?

Rep. John Rutherford: I think more is going to take place at the state level. And I also think you're going to see some change at the national level. But ... You know, security for schools is really a district driven issue. You know, we had discussed last week about dropping (filing) the bill 'Stop Violence in Schools Act of 2018,' which focuses on hardening the target of the schools. Teaching individuals what are the warning signs to look for in these individuals would later become mass killers. And then also setting up an anonymous tip line for folks to be able to call in ... and to report those signs that they see. And that's all important but it always comes down to this, Kent: Security is always a layered process.  

Justice: What do you mean by that?

Rutherford: What I mean by that is it starts at the sale of a gun with making sure that we have an effective background check system in place. And they're certainly some tweaks that we can talk about there. Then it is hardening the target of the school.

Kent: Which is part of the legislation in your bill.

Rutherford: It’s part of the legislation in HR 4909. Having folks as good Sentinels themselves, out there looking for these signs and then reporting them. And then police responding, which obviously there's some issues dealing with the FBI. And quite frankly, I question some of Broward (County) Sheriff's Office’s response. And DCF (Department of Children and Families) and others who have dealt with this individual, Nikolas Cruz, before.

Justice: Because there were multiple complaints on him. 

Rutherford: And so there were plenty of opportunities for the state and local to get involved in that individual’s life. But then finally you get to the actual security of individuals inside that school. And if you have a determined mass murderer who is armed with a firearm, he is going to get into that school somehow. Whether he waits for someone to open a door and slips in, or however he might get in! He's going to get in. The only way you're going to stop a bad guy with a gun in this situation after all these other things that you've done, you still going to get through. And then you have to have folks on the ground with guns to stop him.

Justice: What do you mean school security guards are school police or what about even this notion we're hearing from the White House this week about possibly even teachers?

Rutherford: You know what that's all about, Kent? All of that talk is about how much do we want to pay. If you want to do it the best way? Put police officers in there. They are trained. They're active-shooter trained. They have the skills ... the knowledge, skills and abilities to do the best job for you in that situation. The problem is: law enforcement officers are very expensive. If you're going to put two officers in every school in the county? I don't know, how many do we have? 108, something like that? 

Justice: There's a lot in Duval County. 

(Editor’s note: There are 196 schools overall, according to Duval County Public Schools)

Rutherford: It's going to be a lot of officers. There's a lot of expense there. So the question becomes: How many, how much do you want to spend to make sure that this does not happen again? And then you hear people say, 'Well, let's not do police. Let's do school resource officers who actually work for the school board. They may not be as well trained as the police ... but they carry guns and they're qualified and all that.' And then they say, 'That's too expensive. So let's, you know, if we just put guns in the hands of a few teachers that could be trained, you know, let's do that. That's not as expensive.' So that's why I say: How much do you want to pay for what kind of security? 

Justice: How much is a life worth? Or how much is security for lives -- multiple lives -- 17 lives two weeks ago down there in Parkland?

Rutherford: And look, we had police and you know school resource officers and you know run both ways. Police in the schools and school resource officers working for the school board. You know, but, we only had them in the high schools and the junior highs. We never put them in the elementaries. And I would suggest to you that if you're going to, if you want to prevent this from happening in schools, then we need to cover all schools.

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