3 Prong Approach to School Security Avoids Lockdown

This past Friday, we witnessed the aftermath of violence and tragedy: The murder of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. In the article before this one, AWildDuck shared a poignant and emotional story of Logan Dryer, a 6 year old boy who was protected from his fears by four victims of the massacre.

In the wake of tragedy caused by violence, it’s inevitable that politicians, pundits, and specialists rush to patch the security apparatus or call for new studies of mental illness. For many in the United States, it’s high time for more restrictive gun control laws, and certainly, something could be done to improve detection and intervention of individuals capable of massacring children. A national dialogue on meaningful gun control is certainly in order, but this won’t address the root of the problem and it certainly won’t solve the problem. It’s hard to imagine that criminals and high performing individuals with aggressive forms of mental illness will not get access to weapons.

Of course, a better understanding of mental illness would be a great leap forward, but we certainly don’t want a police state that incarcerates people because of what they might do.  In this moving Blog post, the mother of a 13 year old boy with mental illness explains the tribulations of dealing with her son. He has brief explosive bouts during which he presents a danger to anyone in the vicinity.

Improved school safety could definitely be part of a solution, but here – again – we don’t want our children studying in prisons that are inhospitable to pupils, educators and community participation.

Bob Strang: Importance of tightening security in school

Bob Strang, the CEO of Investigative Management Group is a specialist in threat-assessment. In a Fox News interview, he proposes addressing the effectiveness of all three areas: weapons, criminal psychology, and school security. His 3-prong proposal is designed to reduce the likelihood of a lethal school rampage like the one we witnessed this past week.

Mr. Strang suggests that we simultaneously change or reinforce these areas, not necessarily in major ways. For example, he does not propose that we ban civilian guns or prevent all unannounced visitors to a school. The first may be unrealistic and the latter may set a grim tone for socializing and learning.

  1. Gun Control:  For example, ban assault weapons, limit clips, end the gun-show loophole
  2. Mental Illness:  He has no specific suggestions, but I think he is hinting at better identification and preemptive intervention
  3. School Security: This is where it gets interesting . . .

Strang suggests that every school have an armed security professional, possibly recruited and screened from returning war veterans.

In my opinion, suggestion #3 has several problems.

  • I wonder if Strang envisions a sniper in a watch tower? I cannot imagine that a single officer in an interior office or even patrolling corridors could be very effective. I could see using armed guards at some inner city schools that struggle with violence daily.
  • And where would the money come from? Probably a reduction in teaching staff!
Elementary school of the future?

Elementary school of the future?

■ Most importantly, a subtle shift from an inviting campus to a restrictive campus has profound implications. The presence of armed guards contributes to an environment that feels more like a prison than a place for learning. It deters unannounced visits from parents and educators—even if the guard is undercover. It bakes into our daily routines an omni-present fear of terrorists and murderers and teaches children that strangers are inherently bad, rather than the judgment they need to develop personal safety habits and an ability to adapt. I prefer an inviting campus that does not have intimidating barriers to plays, concerts, sports events, community groups, and especially parent-teacher conferences. The presence of guards and guns puts a chill on all of these venues.

This led me to think of a slightly less apparent security apparatus and a less restrictive environment. I wonder if it could be effective. Rather than an armed sniper at every school, I wonder if this plan could be an effective alternative to part 3 of Mr. Strang’s suggestion…

3a)  A national school-safety czar. Not necessarily at the cabinet level, but under the auspices of our Department of Homeland Security. His role is to set coordinate studies, gather consensus, set policies and encourage standardized practices for drills, lockdowns, spotting suspicious activity, negotiation, etc.

3b)  An individual at each school (perhaps existing staff), who is liaison to the safety czar. She gathers intelligence (identify aberrant behavior, online threat absences, etc), investigates cause, implements a standards-based policy, verifies that cameras and perimeters are alert and secure, trains teachers & admins, avoid the complacency that comes with peaceful years on end.

She also works with local law enforcement to plan and practice response time,
review interior maps and perhaps install quick reacting defense, such as tear gas
or floor-level grease dispensers that can disable aggressors in access corridors.

How does my #3b differ from Mr. Strang’s #3. First, it doesn’t add lethal firepower to an area that seeks protection from firepower. I don’t buy the NRA claim that more guns is a solution to ending gun violence. After all, with a population of 200 million adults, America already has 300 million guns. It certainly hasn’t shielded her citizens from violence. Second, it is probably cheaper. Third, it relies on brains, standardized plans and preparation rather than brawn and bullets. Perhaps it’s just me, but I think that this fits within the ethos that we teach our children.

Using a loose analogy, this is why Captain Picard solved problems with his head rather than using his fists and groin like the original Captain Kirk. That earlier Star Trek series looks like a slapstick satire next to the newer one. This is not just due to an improvement in special effects. The Next Generation series is more believable because it is not a “shoot-em-up” western.

And where would the money come from? Probably a reduction in teaching staff!

3 thoughts on “3 Prong Approach to School Security Avoids Lockdown

  1. Ellery,

    I live in Aurora Illinois. It is the 2nd most populous city in the state after Chicago. Indian Prairie, District 204, which includes Metea Valley High School, where J– and T– attend, and Waubonsie Valley High School, which N– and S– attended has an office at each high school (not elementary schools) for the Aurora (or Naperville) police department. T– tells me that there is an armed policeman at her school, in attendance every day. He is called a “liaison officer”. Your suggestion about a school liaison is very similar to what the Aurora police liaison is currently doing at T’s school. The difference is that his salary is being paid by the Aurora police department, and he is rotated into that position only temporarily–perhaps a half year to a year–before being reassigned to other normal police duties (e.g. gang task-force, narcotics, traffic, city beat, etc). The elementary schools are not protected in this way, but enough incidents happen at the high schools (unfortunately) for them to have a permanent police presence.

    I don’t think arming every teacher would be very effective. Certainly there are some teachers who would welcome the training, regularly practice shooting, and who would be prepared to use deadly force to stop an intruder. But I don’t think most of your kindergarten and primary school grade teachers will be willing to aim a gun at another human being and kill them because they have determined that this person needs to be stopped. I think the first instinct of our teachers are to lock doors and protect the students in some safe environment as authorities shoot-it-out with attackers.

    On the other hand, trained security professionals, who do not need to worry about corralling students into locked-down rooms, would be able to seek out shooters and take them down. In this most recent case, the principal and a counselor stepped out of the office and both were gunned down leaving the hall open for the shooter to find a class of students. If a security professional would have been able to deter the intruder for an extra minute, the entire school could have been locked down and there may have been less loss of life.

    In the most recent case, the shooter shot the door which barred his way into school. With a heavier door, or possibly two-door (outer door + mini-foyer + inner door) approach, the lock-down alarm may have been issued a bit earlier and could have saved additional life. Some inner-city schools use this approach. All students (and parents) enter an outer door into a mini-foyer which contains one or more metal detectors and security guards who operate those. Once past the metal detectors, a second door is passed to enter the school. If anything happens to any of the guards, both sets of doors are automatically locked. Airports don’t use any doors because they typically have several layers of security professionals before and after the metal detectors who become the “barriers”.

    We should use brains as much as possible, before resorting to lethal force. I don’t think we need a federal school security “czar”. Every state and district has its own set of problems, mix of students, and neighborhood considerations. I do think that each school district should have a security director. Perhaps, each state should also have appropriate support for school districts for security considerations–and state officials should certainly get together with each other in some type of annual nationwide convention for this topic. Should we add a new federal level school security “czar”? I don’t think this would be either efficient or effective. Too many different issues in school districts across the county. Better to let states do what they do best—compete and let the best results show what may be better directions for other states, rather than bureaucrats in Washington DC come up with the answers.

  2. Your recommendation 3a would be resisted and treated with contempt by red states and red school districts. It would be looked upon as a federal invasion of state and local matters. This would not stop an individual state from adopting 3a. Unfortunately, regarding firearms restrictions, for the past 30 years the NRA has lobbied Congress to pass laws that prevent states and local jurisdictions from passing their own gun control laws. They refer to this as “keeping the federal government out of state and local matters”— except, of course, if you disagree with what state and local jurisdictions want.

    With the exception of the tear gas recommendation (an interesting idea), I believe that the recommendations in your plan 3b is already commonplace, especially with regard to interfacing with law enforcement. Currently, there is no “Nationar Czar”, but I think that it is SOP at at the school district level.

    Even gun control advocates have recently lost sight of the fact that the problem is not just mass murderers and not just schools. Most of the 10,000 gun murders per year in the US are single and two victim murders. Possible circumstances are anger, fear, domestic violence, gang activity, stray bullets, accidents, teenage pranks, crimes gone awry, mistakes, etc.

  3. Ellery,

    I am a Safety/Escort Officer at a major state university [verified by Ellery] Although I do not carry a weapon, campus officers acting in a security capacity do so.

    I respectfully disagree with your position on firepower to deter violence. Many points that you suggest in your version of #3b are already implemented and will do nothing against an armed individual. Hiring trained, trusted and respected individuals packing fire power will not only work to halt shooters but prevent them in the first place by acting as a deterrent.

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