As a former police officer and public schools security officer, I couldn’t help but think of some other ways to better secure our schools. The following are proposals I feel would have a significant impact on school safety overall, and would not be too difficult to implement.
Color Coded Fire Drills: having worked security for a public school district, I became familiar with the status quo, but quickly realized there was much room for improvement. One of the largest issues that stuck out at me was that of the fire drill system. Most schools have one designated area for emergencies such as fire drills. I feel this is a huge safety issue. The reason I say this, is because of the school shooting that took place in 1998 in Arkansas.
“Jonesboro, Arkansas. Children aged 11 and 13 pulled a fire alarm and then shot other middle school students from nearby woods as the students left the school building. They killed four girls and a teacher, and they wounded 10 other students.”
(Source: The Ten Most Horrendous School Shootings in the United States)
When possible, schools should set up what I like to call color coded fire drills. This is a system where a school, if possible, has 3 different rally points available for a fire drill. Each location is assigned a color code. When a fire alarm goes off, a color is chosen at random and announced over the PA system. All teachers will know what location they need to go based on the color called out. This means that the rally points will most likely not be the same location twice or at least greatly diminished.
While this is not a failsafe, what this does do is provide a safe guard in place against those who may try to copycat this method of violence. Those who wish to try and perpetrate an act like that in 1998 would not know exactly what location would be called out, making it much more difficult to pull off a successful ambush. This same method is effective for bomb threats as well.
The high school I attended had a policy of moving all the students to the football bleachers to clear the school facilities. This method is still in use, and has remained static for over a decade. This policy however, just like the fire drill is a major flaw. If someone wanted to cause massive carnage, they would only need to call in a fake bomb scare, while the real bombs are in the bleachers waiting for the students to be evacuated there.
It is understandable that not all schools have the grounds or ability to have multiple locations for such a program, however, many do, and when possible, the Color coded fire drill system should be implemented.
Self-Locking Doors: While this may be an expensive proposal, I feel it is one truly worthy of consideration. School districts should look into the ability of self-locking door systems. These would be electronic and operated much like doors seen at private companies that utilized electronic ID’s to gain access. These doors can be set up on timers, so during class times, they lock to those from the outside. They can always be open from within, however during class they cannot be open from the outside without a proper ID card. These cards should be reserved for approved staff only, not students. The advantage to such a system is that if an active shooter comes on campus during class hours, all classrooms are locked by default and save valuable time that otherwise would be required for staff to manually lock.
Take Advantage of Proprietary Security: The school district I worked for had its own department of security, however this security is unarmed. While it was relatively organized, there are some major areas for improvement and loss of potential. The junior high school I worked with had three security personnel, one school resource officer provided by the local police department, myself, and one other guard who acted as head of security for the school. There was an elementary school next door, but had no full time security. I would spend a total of one to two hours a day at various times there. This is unacceptable. More emphasis must be made on school campus security of all grades. Just as every school has a nurse as a fundamental cornerstone, every school should have security staff on campus, regardless of grade level.
One of the biggest wastes I witnessed while working security for the school district is that of the security personnel. The other guard I worked with at the school was a former police officer of ten years in New Mexico and yet he was unarmed. He had advanced training and skill sets that were literally going to waste in an environment that they should be applied! There are many school security officers that work for school districts that are former police officers, and have had advance first responder and firearms training. Not utilizing this is a huge waste for the school district.
States should set up a program to arm school district security. Especially when there are so many with rich law enforcement and military backgrounds. There is no reason that in-house security for the school districts could not team up with their local police department, and with a state approved program, get school security officers certified and approved to carry a firearm on campus. To not take advantage of this available resource is a serious waste. Many schools do not have the luxury of police officers, and while they may have some unarmed security, in the case of an active shooter scenario, those guards are just as defenseless as the students their there to protect, and are ineffective.
Financial Stability for School Security Officers: It’s no secret that there is a lot of financial waste in the school districts across the U.S., however, when it comes to security, the funding is very anemic. One of the largest obstacles I encountered while working as an officer for the schools was lack of financial stability. The positions are only contracted out for the school year. Once the school year has ended, the contract is up, and one must technically go through a rehire. During the summer, there is no pay, so those employed all year must figure out how they will make ends meet for the 3 months school is out.
I myself ran into this quagmire. I worked all year and enjoyed the job, however, as the school year came to a close; I was forced to start looking for work to continue to pay the bills. I was hired by an armored transport company; however, I had to start right away in order to get the job. This forced me to leave my position a month early at the school, and left the school a man down for security. Many security guards go through this same issue, resulting in a high turnover rate and loss of very good guards. In the end, it becomes cost ineffective and very inefficient. The schools must continue to hire new security personal, train them, and then employ them for the remaining 8 months, only to lose a great majority when the year ends. If the school districts paid their security throughout the year like their teachers, they would be able to maintain a bulk of their security staff. This means that guards that have been trained already to school standards and have experience under their belt would still be able to continue their employment, and the district would not continually have to fill in the massive gaps due to high turnover. One of our highest assets are our children, it makes no sense to put such little importance on maintaining a quality and experienced security force.
Private Security: Security and police are very expensive, and many cities may not have the luxury of in house security for their school districts. In cases like this, private armed security companies should not be ruled out as a viable option. In fact, there are cities right now in the U.S. that are using private security successfully to subsidize for lack of regular police. Such companies were utilized for a long time in San Francisco, and were called patrol specials.
Private security companies work all across the United States, and many have contracts with the federal government doing everything from armed facility security to prisoner transport. Many of these guards are former law enforcement and military, and have more than enough ability to provide professional and safe security for cities schools that cannot afford in house security departments or police.
Funding for Security and Police: Due to the high cost of security and police, one proposal would be to pass a state tax on consumer goods or food to help pay for added security. Recently, Arizona passed a 3 cent tax on food to help pay for education needs. One of the controversies surrounding this tax was many felt the school districts waste too much money as it is, and too much that gets spent goes unaccounted for, so giving them more money just meant more waste.
I feel, however, if a clear and cut tax were proposed for the sole purpose of financing police and security for our schools, people would support it enthusiastically. For many Americans, paying a few cents tax for added security, and knowing where that money is going would be welcomed with open arms, as long as it was clearly spent for this purpose and guaranteed so.
Firearms in School: Right away people get all flustered when you talk about permitting teachers or administrators access to firearms, however, let’s calm down and take a serious look at this issue. When 9/11 took place, planes were “gun free zones.” As we all know, men armed with plastic box cutters brought this nation to its knees, and was able to seize control of the aircraft from the pilots. In reality, this was another case of criminals exploiting a “no weapon zone” policy, causing the good guys to yet again to be unarmed, while the bad guys were armed. Shortly after 9/11, people came to their senses, and now pilots are permitted to have access to a firearm in the cockpit.
When it comes to our schools, is this issue really that different? Like the pilot, teachers and administrators that work for the schools are professionals. Like the pilot, teachers and administrators go through intensive background checks, they get finger printed, and are well vetted before being hired. They are stand up law abiding Americans, and are in fact the shining example of the individual one would want when we are speaking about firearms.
Some argue that giving teachers or administrators access to firearms would do nothing in case of the active shooter. In fact, it’s a myth that gets repeated time and time again. Let’s take a look at history, and see for ourselves. We already know that “gun free zones” do nothing to stop shootings. There is not one confirmed case where a “gun free zone” or the sign that is posted has deterred or prevented a school shooting. With that said, doe we have any confirmed cases of where a school teacher or administrator has stopped an active shooter with a firearm? YES!
In 1997, like other schools, Pearl High School was the victim of an active shooter, however there is one major difference between this and others. The principle had a .45 pistol in his vehicle, and retrieved it once the shooting started and confronted the shooter.
“The incident began on the morning of October 1, 1997 when Luke Woodham fatally stabbed and bludgeoned his sleeping mother, Mary Woodham. At his trial, Woodham claimed that he could not remember killing his mother.
Woodham drove his mother’s car to Pearl High School. Wearing an orange jumpsuit and a trench coat, he made no attempt to hide his rifle. When he entered the school, he fatally shot Lydia Kaye Dew and Christina Menefee, his former girlfriend. Pearl High School assistant band director, Jeff Cannon, was standing five feet away from Dew when she was fatally shot. He went on to wound seven others before leaving, intending to drive off campus and conduct another shooting at the nearby Pearl Junior High School. However, assistant principal Joel Myrick had retrieved a .45 pistol from the glove compartment of his truck and subdued Woodham inside his mother’s car. Then Myrick demanded “Why did you shoot my kids?” Woodham replied, “Life has wronged me, sir”.”
This incident proves an important point. School faculties are in fact capable and responsible enough to use a weapon effectively. In this case, a principle armed with a pistol, was able to stop further loss of life, but what about the “gun free zone” policy? Of course, it was not the “gun free zone” law that stopped this shooter, it was a law abiding armed administrator.
Some try to argue that allowing school faculty access to firearms would be bad because “what if the teacher snaps.” Could the same not be said for the armed police officer? The reason this argument is absurd is simply this. If a teacher wishes to carry out a shooting and “snaps,” they would do what every other active shooter in history has done. They would bring a firearm or weapon to campus from somewhere else, and commit their atrocious act.
Another reason this option should not be scoffed at is simple. When Columbine took place, there were teachers literally huddled with their children hoping to not be found, waiting for help to arrive. Of course, some of these teachers and students were found and killed. There is no reason any American in this nation should be put in such a position due to misguided policies. There is no reason a teacher, who is a law abiding citizen and has had a background check, should not be able to hunker down with their children and wait armed. If that shooter comes in the room, they are at the shooters mercy. At least in this case they can challenge the shooter, and potentially put a stop to it and defend their life and the lives of their students.
Like that of the Airline pilot, the states should take a serious look at formulating a program that would provide a set of training standards, and certify individuals that meet these standards for access to firearms on campus.
Biometric Safes: Many have raised concerns over children getting access to a weapon if they are permitted on campus. This, however, is easily avoided. Biometric safes are gun safes that use finger print scanning technology. These safes could be bolted down in approved rooms, and regulated by the school department of security, or even the local police department. An authorized person from the police department would program the safes with the permitted school staff’s finger prints. Only the individuals permitted would be able to have access to the safe(s). There are no keys to fumble with, no dial, no key pad, just a simple swipe of their finger. The weapon inside could be registered and regulated by the local police department as well.
Setting up a program in conjunction with the local police that helps register safes, weapons, and training would go a long way to securing our schools and still allowing school faculty the fundamental right of self-defense.
“Gun free zones” are ineffective; they disarm the good citizen while it emboldens the bad, making the killing of innocents easier. The assault weapons ban does nothing to stop gun violence, and has been proven to be inept as a policy.
History has shown us that guns are not necessary to commit mass murder, and while gun control laws banning firearms from schools have done nothing to stop a shooter from killing, a principle armed with a hand gun has stopped a shooter from further killing.
Laws should be passed based on sound logic and fact, not emotional sentiment that clouds reality. The advent of guns cannot be undone, and no law will ever prevent someone who wants to do harm from doing it. The most logical and solid way forward, and in concert with state and local law enforcement, is allowing the law abiding teachers and administrators of our society the fundamental right of self-defense.
Nick is a former Arizona police officer and deputy. He is a Kaplan University Counter Terrorism and Homeland Security major, recently graduating with highest honors. Nick is a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, The National Society of Collegiate Scholars, the Golden Key International Honor Society, Alpha Betta Kappa Honor Society, and Alpha Phi Sigma Criminal Justice Honor Society. He has appeared as an expert commentator on Fox News Radio, and has been published in academic journals as well as Police One. Nick Can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Dialn0911