A candidate for Clark County sheriff on Wednesday called for Las Vegas officers to police county schools instead of a separate school district police department.
Former North Las Vegas police officer Tim Bedwell, who announced his candidacy for sheriff in February, said his goal is to have the Metropolitan Police Department absorb the Clark County School District Police Department by the end of his first term in office.
Citing safety concerns, as well as a lack of resources and staffing, Bedwell said the school district should not run its own police department.
He proposes staffing each of the district’s 357 schools with a police officer on his first day in office, partly as a response to the Feb. 14 high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 and a rise in school shootings across the country.
“If October 1st wasn’t enough of a wake-up, I shudder to think what would wake the community up,” said Bedwell, incumbent Sheriff Joe Lombardo’s only opponent for the county’s top cop job.
“We cannot be another Sandy Hook,” he said. “We cannot be another school shooting.”
Multiple calls to Lombardo and his campaign staff Wednesday weren’t returned.
The two biggest school districts in the state, Washoe County School District and Clark County School District, each have their own independent police departments, but several smaller school districts outsource their officers from local law enforcement.
Bedwell said school police lack the training and resources that Metro has to sufficiently protect students and investigate major crimes without help from other law enforcement.
Any such proposal would require discussions with Metro, the school district, school police and other involved parties, Bedwell said.
Current school officers would integrate into Metro’s force, he said.
Metro officers working at schools would monitor those entering and leaving the school for weapons, he said.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement wouldn’t be involved in his absorption plan, Bedwell said.
Bedwell also left open the possibility of adding metal detectors to school entrances and examining the need for backpacks, as they could be used to carry weapons into schools.
He stressed the officers would be in schools to ensure public safety, rather than enforce laws or handle responsibilities traditionally held by school resource officers.
“I don’t want police officers on campus to stop kids to find out their gang affiliations,” Bedwell said.
Merger feasibility questioned
The proposal was met with resistance from the school police union’s president, who said school police and Metro already have a strong working relationship.
“We already have an established department that already does an excellent job policing our schools,” said Matt Caldwell, president of the Police Officers Association.
Caldwell called the proposal “ill-informed” and questioned its feasibility. He said he would rather see an additional 40 or so officers hired to the school police force, bringing the Police Department’s total to about 200 officers, adding more officers as needed.
Department mergers do happen, but they can be complicated, said William Sousa, director of UNLV’s Center for Crime and Justice Policy.
Citing the New York City subway police’s absorption into the New York Police Department in the 1990s, Sousa said significant department mergers do happen, but he hasn’t examined the viability of a modern-day Metro merger in Clark County.
Differences in training levels among officers, background check standards and union contracts could further complicate any such merger, he said.
Bedwell said he would want students to trust the officers and view them as protectors, rather than fear the increased police presence in their schools.
He suggested students and families may view officers as protectors, in part, because Clark County residents are accustomed to seeing Metro officers in their everyday lives.