$30 Million plan for armed police officers in Ariz. schools

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By Jennifer Thomas By Jennifer Thomas

PHOENIX -- Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and state Sen. Rich Crandall want $30 million to station more armed police officers in Arizona schools.

The two Republicans on Tuesday announced their plan to triple the amount of school resource officers that are paid for by the state.

Babeu said more cops are needed because gun-free school zones in Arizona have left students and teachers open to the types of killings that happened last month in Newtown, Conn.

"In fact, what it's done is create an alluring target for criminals and mass murderers that see them as an opportunity for their mass murder," Babeu said during a press conference at the state Legislature.

The money would add another 300 resource officers to state schools. Currently, there are about 100 officers patrolling campuses full time.

Those officers are paid for with state money. There are about another 250 officers being funded by local governments.

This is the latest school safety plan being floated at the Capitol since a lone gunman killed 20 students at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month.

Since the mass killings, gun and school safety has emerged as one the top issues in the country.

President Barack Obama is expected to unveil his plan to deal with gun violence on Wednesday.

And on the state level, the New York Legislature passed a sweeping set of gun control laws Tuesday that expand the definition of assault weapons and limit the size of ammunition clips.

Don't look for those types of changes here in Arizona, but school safety will take center stage this year.

Gov. Jan Brewer made sure of that when she called for more school resource officers in her State of the State speech on Monday. Brewer will outline exactly how she plans to pay for her plan at the end of the week when she releases her detailed budget proposal.

Babeu and Crandall said the problem with Brewer's plan and others like it is money. The two elected officials don't want the $30 million coming from the general fund if at all possible.

They are proposing to pay for it by raiding funds from the voter-approved Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission.

The group oversees the state's publically financed election system where candidates get cash from the government in exchange for not taking private contributions.

The commission gets its funding from a number of different sources, such as traffic fines and volunteer contributions.

Babeu and Crandall said it’s better to use this money than take it from the general fund. If officers were paid for out of the general fund, they say it makes it easier to cut.

And Crandall should know. He voted for past budgets that cut millions of dollars that went to funding school resource officers. During the press conference he said he was now "embarrassed" by those votes.

Other funding sources they looked at included a liquor tax and well as a levee on private car sales.

Democratic House leader Chad Campbell released one last week that called for $100 million for more counselors and police officers.

He criticized Crandall and Babeu's proposal, saying they should have found another way to pay for it.

"I think raiding clean elections to fund any type of non clean elections-related programs is not the way to go," Campbell said.

If the plan did become law, it would have to ultimately have to go to the ballot since clean elections was approved by the voters in 1998.