DENVER -- Colorado's Douglas County School District has purchased 10 semiautomatic rifles that it says school security officers can use in the event of a shooting or other security threat.
“We may be the first one on scene, and I want to make sure that we are able to have the correct tools to handle the situation if something happens," the district's director of security, Richard Payne, told 9News. "I hope that we never have to deploy them.”
Payne added that spending more than $12,000 on the Bushmaster long rifles was about giving officers a "tactical advantage" in the event of a serious incident in the 900-square-mile school district that includes 86 schools and 67,000 students. District officials declined to tell ABC affiliate Denver7 what the exact model of the rifle is or its magazine capacity.
Only eight of the district's 64 security staffers currently carry handguns, and will be the only officers allowed to use the new rifles. All of the district's security officers previously worked in law enforcement and have been trained to carry the weapons, district spokeswoman Paula Hans told The Huffington Post.
Hans said the guns are part of a "proactive approach" to school security, and that the weapons can be used at the discretion of the officers. She declined to specify what might qualify as an appropriate scenario to use the guns because sharing such information "might compromise the safety of our students and staff."
The new weapons will be locked in officers' cars during the day and transferred to a locked safe in the district's security department at night.
We may be the first one on scene, and I want to make sure that we are able to have the correct tools to handle the situation if something happens. Richard Payne, director of security for the Douglas County School District
District Superintendent Liz Fagen authorized Payne to make the purchase in January after he learned school officers and the sheriff's deputies they trained with were not equipped with similar weapons, according to Hans. Payne told The Denver Post he did not discuss the decision with the school board because he was not required to have its approval.
The board learned about the weapon purchase on Monday. It has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday night.
“People recognize this is something we do not take lightly,” Hans added, saying parents have had mixed reactions to the possibility of having semiautomatic weapons on campuses.
Payne did not return a request for comment on Tuesday.
In December, Fagen touted the district's commitment to security in a video posted to YouTube.
"We want to make sure that we have done all that we can to make sure that students and staff in our district are physically [safe], psychologically [safe], and safe online," she said.
"We know from events all over the country that school districts alone cannot solve this issue, and we need to work together, and that’s exactly what we’ve done in this district," Fagen added. "We’ve partnered with law enforcement at a level that I’ve not seen before. In addition to that, we really work hard to partner with parents, staff members, community members, and students, because we know that's where information begins."
This article has been updated with comment from Paula Hans.