Garfield County sheriff offers conciliatory tone on improving school safety

Alex Zorn

A screenshot from Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario's "Just the Facts" Facebook Live video installment on Monday.

After last week’s “Just the Facts” Facebook video lamenting gun-control advocates incited hundreds of comments and spawned dozens of letters to the editor, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario followed up this week with a more reconciling message.

Vallario, in a special installment of his video commentary, apologized for some of what he admitted to be divisive language last week. But he also reiterated that he believes school safety measures and mental health awareness are better solutions to school shootings than gun control.

“I compartmentalized people into categories, and that distracted from the message,” he said, reading from a written statement that the Sheriff’s Office forwarded to area news media.

“For that, I apologize and ask for your indulgence as I attempt to take this conversation in a different direction and provide professional analysis based on 31 years of law enforcement experience,” Vallario said.

Instead of pointing fingers, which he felt may have distracted from last week’s message, he said, “policy makers, schools, parents and the community all need to be part of the solution” when it comes to keeping Garfield County students safe.

There was no mention of liberal politicians or Hollywood elite this week, two groups he singled out in railing against gun control.

“Hopefully, we can come together as a community and a nation and develop public policy, training and security to minimize the ability for evil psychopaths to commit these heinous acts on our children,” he said.

When it comes to school safety, in light of recent events in Parkland, Florida, Vallario admitted there are three prongs to the discussion: gun control, mental health and school security, each with their own set of pros and cons.

“I don’t believe that gun control will reduce these acts,” he said.

“With an estimated 10-12 million ARs floating around this country, it will be years before evil criminals will no longer have access to them, unless you’re suggesting a massive government confiscation program that will no doubt violate several other provisions of our Constitution,” Vallario offered.

Though his message took a different tone this week, a mental health approach remains a better solution than gun control, in his eyes.

Recognizing the warning signs with behaviors such as violent and hateful writings in journals, postings of those comments or pictures on social media, obsessions with violent games or movies or torturing animals could deter some of these violent acts, he said.

“Law enforcement, school officials and others are always improving our training to recognize these very real warning signs and we all promote the ‘see something, say something’ program, but unlike the case in Florida, they must be followed up on and not ignored,” said Vallario.

He also pointed out that doctor-patient confidentiality prevents law enforcement from obtaining certain information and posed the question: How far are you willing to allow your medical records to become public without violating your privacy?

Lastly, his stance on school security took the same approach as last week: the more security the better, he said.

Vallario said he feels school safety could be improved with “additional armed security, whether that be school staff that have concealed handgun permits, hired security consistent with what we see in many other places like banks or malls, or other security measures.”

He mentioned the school marshal program, proposed among Colorado sheriffs, which would employ (or volunteer) retried law enforcement, military or others that have experience in weapons training and engaging violent criminals.

“The marshals would be covert, not openly displaying weapons, (no different than security provided for many people in our society or on airplanes) and the evil psychopath would understand that he will most likely encounter someone in a school who will not allow him to commit his intended act,” he said. “And if a mass shooting is disrupted, we’ve all met our intended goal.”

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