Guns in schools is a big topic of conversation in Cascade County.
Wednesday September7th, 2022- 560 KMON morning show first reported on the sling pack that Sheriff Jesse Slaughter has created in his school safety program. The article and information has created a busy week filled with additional questions. Here is the follow-up interview with Sheriff Slaughter:
Pat: Sheriff, you've been in the news quite a bit lately about the gun issue and the proposal, if schools want it, that you'll provide protection by putting people in the schools with weapons. How's the feedback been with you? You broke that story here a week ago today on this show, and then you held a press conference later in the week. How's the feedback, been?
Sheriff Slaughter: I'm going to say super positive. KRTV even ran a poll, and I think we're at 65% of the people in favor of it. I really think people know it's the only option we really have. I was out speaking to a group, and I was criticized a little bit, which is fine. That's what my job is. And a lady said, well, I don't believe that the guns are the answer in the school. I said, okay, well, what if you give me a solution. I am in a position of leadership, and I tell my staff all the time, don't tell me no. The answer to everything is yes or maybe, but these are factors and considerations we need to consider. But the no attitude is going to get us nowhere, literally. So, I turned it back on her, and I said to her, I said, that's fair enough, but I said, who are you going to blame if we lose children in a school from violence? And she pointed right at me, and she said, you. And I said, okay, well, then what do you expect me to do? You hired me to do the job, and then now I'm doing the job. And now you're telling me, well, we don't like that you did it that way, which is their right, that's fine, but they don't offer a solution. Some of the solutions I heard was metal detectors at every school, clear backpacks, hardening our school, make them like a prison, basically. And that's hundreds of millions of dollars. We've looked at it. It's hundreds of millions of dollars to do the infrastructure. I will tell you that the Great Falls Public Schools and the rural schools are doing a good job year by year of doing hardening to their schools. But there's no way we could flip a switch and have everything hardened, even this year, unless the legislature wanted to dole out $100 million to get it done.
Pat: One of the concerns I hear, and I heard this from Commissioner Don Ryan, I heard this from Buchanan, who is running as an independent in the District II US house race here in Montana. Their concerns have been that they don't think the people will be properly trained. Your response to that?
Sheriff Slaughter: I've been a firearms trainer my entire law enforcement career. I happen to be pretty good at it. I've been doing it not only in law enforcement, but I own my own private business. I am building the program, and I will start the initial training of the program. And my instructors at Cascade County Sheriff's office are the best I've ever been around. And I mean, I've been all over the country. I've been to Alliance, Ohio. I've been to Gunsight, Arizona five times. I am a professional of that craft. And for Buchanan and Ryan to sit there and tell me I don't know what I'm doing, well, I'm not telling you guys you don't know how to do roads and bridges and juggle projects for your campaigns. What I'm simply saying here is I do know how to do this, and I have a lot riding on this. If I don't run a responsible, safe program, then I'm going to suffer the consequences for it.
Randy: On the phone with us. Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter. Jesse, you had your press conference at the Cascade County Sheriff's Office last Thursday. Commissioner Ryan attended that. I talked to some of the people that were there who said that the commissioner was very anti program and spoke out after the fact against a lot of things that you were saying. What have you heard?
Sheriff Slaughter: I was there. I heard it all. I was really frustrated. So, he actually met with me prior to that meeting, and he said, I have some advice for you. Please, please make sure you tell everybody that this is an option and that the school boards are their independent government and people don't have to do this program. You're just providing an option. And I may not agree with him all the time, but I took that as really good advice. He's been on the school board. He's done things. I took that as advice. And if you watch my press conference, I say it over and over again. Each individual elected school board has a choice to opt into this program or opt out. I never once said, we're bringing them down. You're stuck with us, and you can't do that. And then after that, he still had the audacity to speak out against it. I was like, well, then he just set me up. What did you give me that advice for? And I thought it was pretty underhanded. I believe in his heart, he's for the other three parts of the program of the levy. A lot of people don't know this, but it was actually Don Ryan's idea for us to go for the levy. But it's my job. I don't work for Don Ryan. He's not my boss. It is my job as the sheriff to set the public safety needs for the county, and it's their job to fund it. So, I don't know if this is some weird threat, but it won't work. I don't understand it. It doesn't make any sense to me. And why call someone in and give them advice and then turn that advice around publicly? I just don't understand that.
Randy: I did watch the press conference, Sheriff, and I believe you did say it many times that it is an option. You talk about you work for the bosses, although there are members on school board who are your bosses, the parents are also and I've heard that there are some parents that may be against this. It's the school board who decides. How do you respond to those parents that individually don't want their kids in those schools?
Sheriff Slaughter: That decision will be made by those school boards. That's why they have elected officials that are on school boards, and those parents will have to go there and convince their school board that this is not an option that they want for their given school. And that is totally fine. If this whole program kicks off and one school gets a lot of security and the rest don't because they opted out, that school will get tremendous security, top notch. And that's all I can really do. I can't control how everybody feels about it. But I'm going to tell you, from being out in the community talking to the public, that's not the feedback I'm getting. And one of the things, too, is when I talk to people, there are people who are against the school safety program, but they're sold for the other three parts. They're going to vote for it anyway. You don't not vote for something because you don't like 25% of it. I've got people out there who don't like the pretrial program, who are like, no, we don't want that, we don't need that. But I'm voting for it because I grew at the other three parts. There's a lot of people that feel that way too. And that was kind of the thing that when County Attorney Racki and I built this, we knew we had to make it a reflection of our community. We had to meet the needs of our entire community when we built it. And that means you're going to do things, some things in the levy that people are in favor of, other things they don't like, but they like the rest of the issues. And I think that's the responsible way to build these things.
Randy: Sheriff, if you talk about a poll by KRTV, we've also run a poll. It was not a structured poll, but we've asked for comments, and I would say we're probably in that 80, 85% positive range. When we look at people who have responded to our posts out there in our story, the support has been tremendous from our listeners and readers.
Sheriff Slaughter: Yeah, I believe that from seeing how Cascade County operates politically, the people that listen to your show are typically the people who win the vote every time that you guys have a very, I would say very good cross section of what Cascade County is all about. So, I think that's extremely good news. I don't know if you guys saw this, but the Republican Central Committee just came out and endorsed the levy. So our fiscal conservative Republicans, it's on the We Stand Safe social media page and we shared it, but they came out and said, you know what? We don't like taxes, but this is money well spent. And we backed it 100%. So, I mean, that says a lot about where people are thinking and where people are going in this county.
Pat: Sheriff, before we go, when you talk about your gun option in schools, and it's just an option, school boards would have to approve it here in Cascade County, how many school districts do you think might come on board out of the gate?
Sheriff Slaughter: Well, there's about twelve or 13 different school districts in Cascade County, if you count private schools. There might even be 14, if you count private schools. Seven rural schools, which actually make up six and then the Great Falls Public School. I think that right out of the chute, will at least have probably six. I shouldn't say that, probably more like eight. But I think that once the program goes in place and parents start to see it, they're going to start applying pressure to their school board and saying, okay, we need this. We don't want to be left out of this. And I don't want to leave anybody out. I've said it the whole time. I don't want to create soft targets anywhere.
Pat: Sheriff, thank you so much. You certainly have been the topic of the news over the last week. It's been dominated by you and this gun issue. Thanks for clarifying some of it, and always great to talk to you, Sheriff. Thanks.
Sheriff Slaughter: Yeah, guys, a lot more to come. God bless.