Everyone agrees state law allows police officers to carry their guns on school grounds while they are on duty.
But Sarpy County school districts and law enforcement agencies are seeking clarification as to whether that applies when officers are off duty.
Nebraska Statute 28-1204 allows on-duty officers the right to carry a weapon at schools, where state statutes otherwise prohibit weapons.
That same statute, however, does not mention off-duty officers, nor does it offer a definition of what constitutes on duty and off duty.
Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov organized a meeting on Oct. 8 among school district officials and law enforcement agencies to determine if there was a consensus about what approach would be appropriate.
Polikov said there is a general agreement in the Sarpy County area that officers are always duty ready.
“It’s just a flick of an instant that changes from off duty to on duty,” Polikov said.
Polikov said the Nebraska Legislature should tell prosecutors what the law really means.
“I have to prove the facts and elements beyond a reasonable doubt,” Polikov said. “That’s a high burden when you have no definition of on duty and off duty.”
Annette Eyman, a spokeswoman for the Papillion-La Vista School District, said a parent’s concern at a recent board meeting put the issue on their radar.
Glen Hading, the parent of a Papillion elementary student, addressed the board Sept. 23 in regard to plainclothes officers bringing their weapons into schools.
The officer Hading was questioning turned out to be an FBI agent. Hading asked if there was a district policy about letting law enforcement officers enter schools with their weapons.
The district has no policy regarding the issue, but does follow state and federal laws, Eyman said. But the district has procedural practices in place for handling these types of situations.
Building principals are aware of any parents who are law enforcement. If there is any question of whether a parent is law enforcement, building principals ask for formal identification to verify, Eyman said.
“It’s our belief that our current practice is in line with what the current law states,” she said.
If parents have concerns or questions regarding individuals carrying weapons into schools, they should contact the building principal, Eyman said.
Hading’s concern has since been addressed, although the district will not implement a policy on the topic because they believe their procedures follow state law, Eyman said.
Overall, Polikov said the school districts at the meeting didn’t find the topic to be a major issue.
“I don’t mean to discount it,” he said. “As expected, there is a lot of discussion on the whole range of training and gun issues.”
With a prominent military community, Bellevue Public Schools currently asks that off-duty parents not carry their weapons into the buildings, said district spokeswoman Amanda Oliver.
“It’s mainly a conversation piece with the principal and parents,” Oliver said.
Omaha Public Schools officials aren’t working on the issue, said district spokesman Todd Andrews. OPS operates five school buildings in Bellevue.
“It’s a law enforcement matter,” Andrews said.
Mike Jones, chief deputy of the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Office, is working to address the statute in the next legislative session. Jones is working with a state senator, but declined to name the senator.
Jones, who is also a member of the Papillion-La Vista school board, gave an interview to the Papillion Times as a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office. He said he did not represent the views of the Papillion-La Vista School District.
“There appears to be some vagueness to what on or off duty means in that state law,” Jones said.
As for what the proposed plan for clarification is, Jones said it’s early in the process.
“Changing the law sounds easy, but there will be a lot of positioning from different aspects of guns and gun control from ‘everyone should have a gun’ to ‘no one should have a gun,’ ” Polikov said.
Other law enforcement officials also said the statute could stand to be clarified.
“If you read that statute, it can be interpreted a few ways,” Bellevue Police Chief Mark Elbert said. “I think it does need something to be tidied up and addressed.”
La Vista Police Sgt. Jeremy Kinsey agreed the law can be interpreted in different ways. He is also a member of the Papillion-La Vista school board.
“Personally I’m in support of any police officers, whether in uniform or plainclothes, being at the schools and being able to react to a situation if a situation came up,” Kinsey said. “That’s what police officers are sworn to do — protect.”
Eyman said having officers in schools can be comforting for building administrators.
“It’s an added level of security knowing that we have some of those individuals in the school and at activities,” she said.
Discussion at the meeting with school administrators and law enforcement was important, Polikov said.
“I think the communication was good, and there are people talking with the Legislature and that is good,” Polikov said. “Where it goes from there, I’m not really able to predict.”