An Ugly Blue Flu
APS police take a few hours off to make a point, but why arm someone with a chip on his shoulder?
Eric J. Garcia
If all the celebrities in the world went on strike, few would suffer. If all the waitresses in Albuquerque had a "sick-out," things would be rough but probably OK. But there are some workers who shouldn't call in to work en masse to make a point: police, firemen, ambulance drivers and air-traffic controllers, to name a few. There's a difference between stirring up inconvenience, even serious inconvenience, with your absence and putting people in danger because you didn't get your way.
On Friday, Aug. 17, 26 of 32 officers for Albuquerque Public Schools called in sick after the Board of Education ruled they couldn't carry guns during school hours and didn't up their pay. Sure, the officers could probably use a raise and better equipment. Paying people in public service jobs should be a big priority for any agency. But there's the rub. Notice the "public service" part of that job description. Sometimes you're too important to take a few hours off to make a point.
What's the message here from these APS officers? They say they need guns to better protect our schoolkids—then take the whole morning off, leaving the Sheriff's Department to do their job? Sure doesn't sound like safety's at the top of their list of concerns.
The antagonistic relationship between a security force and the population it protects always exists, but the officers at APS are half of a particularly nasty one. Students call them "narcs" or worse, and they often serve as a focal point for teenage rebellion. The officers' listlessness is evident--and could be because they aren't paid or equipped properly by APS. How could adding guns to this less than amiable situation make it any better?
I'm sure some parents would prefer an armed police force in light of the years-long spate of countrywide school massacres: Columbine, Virginia Tech, the one-room Amish schoolhouse. But though the pain of those shootings is very real for those communities, it's also important to remember that the media turns these shootings into circuses of dread for its consumers, inflating the sense of fear and panic when they send their own kids off to school.
Perhaps if APS was taking care of its security force—school officers make about half as much as APD—we could be sure APS police were ready to carry firearms throughout the school day. As things stand, with officers angry enough to catch the blue flu and undervalued enough to feel antagonized, I can't think of a worse time to arm them.