Steamboat Pilot & Today — In the wake of the latest school shooting that killed 17 people in Parkland, Florida, Sheriff Garrett Wiggins is proposing putting armed marshals in Routt County’s 11 public school buildings.
“The idea is we just can’t sit idle and wait for the state or federal government to come up with a solution,” said Wiggins, who has been sheriff since 2011 and is seeking re-election for another four-year term. “We’ve made some progress, but we’re not where we want to be.”
Wiggins typed up his proposal and shared it with community leaders and law enforcement officials.
The sheriff said he has only received positive feedback.
“I like the idea,” Steamboat Springs Board of Education President Joey Andrews said. “I think there is definitely some concern when it comes to cost and taxation.”
Wiggins thinks taxpayers should be asked whether they want to pay for the additional security.
“I believe the taxpaying citizens of Routt County have a right to help decide possible solutions as well as funding sources for preventative solutions to these issues,” Wiggins said. “We need to do our due diligence to research and provide some options to our citizens.”
With benefits, training and other expenses, Wiggins estimates it would cost an average of $105,000 per deputy.
The Sheriff’s Office currently has 14 deputies working in the patrol division.
With an additional deputy at each of the 11 school buildings and a deputy to cover absences, Wiggins estimated the total annual cost for the marshal program would be about $1.26 million.
If paid using a property tax, it would cost Routt County property owners an average of $127 each year.
“Keep in mind these figures are very basic but give us a start,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins said it would be his choice to have the marshals assigned to schools in addition to the two school resource officers currently working at schools in the city of Steamboat and the Soroco School District.
“A school marshal and SRO have two totally different objectives, and the two should not be mixed,” Wiggins wrote.
He envisions the marshals would work for either the Sheriff’s Office or local law enforcement agencies, and their focus would be solely on campus safety and security.
“To avoid the argument or concern of having a military appearance to our schools, school marshals do not have to appear overly tactical or trooper-like but dress to appear as a normal citizen,” Wiggins wrote. “The ability to conceal the tools of their trade is quite easy with appropriate attire.”
Wiggins said he has considered other security alternatives such as having metal detectors in the schools, but that would also come at a significant cost, and the marshal program seems more practical.
“That, in itself, I think sends a message to everyone that we’re serious about keeping our schools safe,” Wiggins said.
Andrews said the Steamboat district has invested $2 million in the past five years to improve security at its schools. West Routt and Soroco have also made investments, but Soroco School Board President Jules Palyo thinks more could be done.
“I would have felt the same if it was 20 years ago,” Palyo said. “It’s been a problem in this country, and we have to do something.”
Wiggins is scheduled to visit with the Soroco school board during its March 20 meeting.
“We’ll just start a dialogue to see what board members think,” Palyo said. “If nothing else, it starts a conversation, and only good can come out of that.”
Hayden School Board President Brian Hoza said the board would appreciate having any conversations about school security.
“We’re living in more and more complex times where safety and security continues to be important, and the risks become more and more real,” Hoza said.
Wiggins said he welcomes any feedback.
“If someone has a better idea, I’m ready to listen to it,” Wiggins said.