Commissionaire Ryan and Sheriff Slaughter disagree on the school safety discussion
On October 25th I ran an article on our webpage about a story from when Sheriff Slaughter suggested putting armed coverts in our public schools. The article created a lot of discussion and additional questions. One person who spoke to me about it is Cascade County Commissionaire Don Ryan. He told me he was concerned about the safety levy failing on the ballot due to voters thinking that the decisions have already been made. He didn’t want people voting against raising the salaries for our deputies because of misinformation. Here is an excerpt from the interview with Commissionaire Ryan that happened on Wednesday November 2nd:
Commissionaire Ryan: “The things that people have called the office about, or even commented about as well. It's a raise in taxes. They don't like that. That's legitimate. That's their concern. And no matter which way, if it goes, the taxes are going to be there. How that money is going to be spent is a different issue. That money goes into a special revenue account for public safety, not into our general fund and everything the county commission does, because we have control of that money. We control it, no one else. We decide how that money is going to be spent and dispersed throughout the thing. When the sheriff came out with his gun idea for school, some of the people in the school did like it okay. I mean, it's kind of a mixed bag. Some of them weren't so enthusiastic. The other commissioners and I looked at this, and one of the things about it is if the county hires people with guns to go to all the schools, we're liable for all of their actions and who's their boss. It's not going to be the superintendent or the principal in the school. It's going to be the county. We're their boss. And then if someone quits the job, do we have to go find somebody that adds a lot of burden to the county. Right now, schools have the authority to do that if they want to. There's nothing stopping them from spending their own money to do those things in the county. What I've suggested, I've mentioned this to Sheriff Slaughter after this had come out, I would prefer that we have residential deputies, deputies like we have in Belt that lives there in Belt. Also trained them in SRO (School Resource Officer) duties. We need to be able to somehow find a way that we can have a residential deputy in Cascade, one to cover the Simms and Sun River area and that type of stuff, and train that person to be the SRO and deal with the schools. Because an SRO at Great Falls High has as many students as all the rural students in Cascade County. And we end up sending somebody all around the county. You don't really get to know the community and the kids as well as the SROs that are in the building. I think community policing would be a better aspect and train the SROs, and I think we can do that, but it's going to have to be creative. The other aspect is, if that doesn't work, the other thing that we can do is that we can make money available for grants to school districts that they can apply for and they can tell us what they're going to use it for in terms of public safety. They may want locks, they may want to fix their doors, they may want to put some bulletproof glass and some windows and those types of things, but let the school board decide how to use that money by giving grants for that public safety in that area. So I think those are options that have to be explored.”
Commissionaire Ryan talked about the use of the money from the safety levy if it passes. So I asked him if that is how he would fund a potential grant for the school.
Commissionaire Ryan: “They would have to apply to us. They want a public safety grant, and it would come out of that fund, and then it would be used according to what the people want public safety. But the local district, these are governing bodies that have the authority in their area. They will decide what's the best next step to protect their kids.”
Pat asked if the Sheriff’s plan was implemented, how that would affect liability insurance for the county:
Commissionaire Ryan: Well, one of the biggest expenses we have is liability insurance on the actions of law enforcement. That is something that's there and this possibly, we haven't talked to the insurance agent, but it would probably increase it. If we hired 20 more people to carry guns and do that, that liability would reflect.
Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter visits with KMON every Wednesday, so we asked him about the thoughts of the commissionaire:
Sheriff Slaughter: You know, the writing is on the wall that one commissioner in particular doesn't want to see my plan ever come to fruition. Here's the deal. We have to lead. It's time we stop making excuses, creating additional bureaucracy and red tape on protecting our children. I'm willing to lead. I'm willing to do what's necessary to protect our children, not wade through all the different politics. Again, my idea was simply offering a service. Don is correct when he says the governing body of the school has the ultimate authority. I get it. But what's your plan, Commissioner? What are you going to do? You don't have a plan. You have to help these people. And no offense to the commissioner, but he's not qualified to make these decisions. That's why I'm the sheriff. The people elected me to do public safety. They elected him to provide a budget. Now, he can defund my budget. That won't go well with the people, but he can do that. That's well within his purview. But here's the bottom line. If you're not going to come up with a solution, you don't lead, follow, or get out of the way. And this is a situation in our community, in our country right now, where we have to be bold. We have to stop making excuses. We have to stop the red tape. I listened to him this morning, and he's right. He has control over this now. He doesn't have a control over me. As the sheriff, I'm an independent elected official. But he has control over the money. And if he wants to defund public safety in the school or relocate it to the way that they want to do it, we can wade through red tape for years. But at the end of the day, if a child gets hurt or a child gets killed in the school, the blood is on their hands. Here's the part that breaks my heart. You guys and my entire law enforcement career, all 23 years of it, I've heard bureaucrats and politicians talk. They're not taking action when it comes to protecting our children. So we have to step up. We have to do something. And it's hard, and yes, it creates liability. Are we going to be in slavery to the trial lawyers, or are we going to do what the people asked us to do? And that's to govern and protect them and move forward?
The sheriff also touched on the topic of liability:
Sheriff Slaughter: You know, you're not getting out of this liability catch 22. It doesn't matter what you do. And here's the thing. We need leaders who have courage. We need leaders who aren't afraid to be bold. The solutions aren't that complicated. It's just we can't be politically correct, and we can't sit around and have, you know, 25 different discussions. I simply put an idea for that. Offered a service to those school boards who, by their elected group, their elected group could choose to opt in or opt out. That's all I did. The simple fact of the matter is levy is going to pass, and one of the reasons it's going to pass is because of school safety.
Election is November 8th and the Safety Levy is on the ballot for you to decide how you feel.