The senseless murder of 19 children in Uvalde, Texas, leaves us once again grieving as a nation and ridiculed across the world. My friends, colleagues and foreign policemen from all over the world ask me: “How does this still happen and why? It seems that we ask the same questions after each incident without ever producing a solution.
Where is the leadership in each city to develop a strategy that works for their community, in their schools, to protect their children? I can tell you one thing for sure, “run, hide, fight” is not the answer.
The mass shooting in Uvalde will certainly go down in history as a watershed moment for law enforcement. Although the investigation is ongoing, I am satisfied that there has been a complete failure of command, control, communication and intelligence by the on-scene commander, who, because of his rank and position , was Uvalde School District Chief Pete Arredondo.
At the press conference immediately following the event, every detail and report of the incident was proven to be false. The complete absence of on-scene leadership prevented police from responding appropriately and to the standards set 20 years ago as a direct result of the Columbine High School mass shooting in Colorado. The police must run towards the shots, despite the danger to themselves, and eliminate the threat as soon as they arrive.
First, let me say that I am not in favor of developing a “national strategy” to address school shootings because there is no “one size fits all” safety plan. for schools. What is best practice for New York City will not work for a rural school in Minneola, Minn.
What I’m suggesting is that governors, city managers, mayors, local law enforcement, community leaders and parents get much more involved in developing plans on how to deal with to the threat of school shootings in their community.
Local leaders have more skin in the game and understand the nuances of their community and schools. Push back against school boards that think parents should leave their opinions and voices at home.
It’s been over 20 years since Columbine; have we not learned from these hard lessons? How can U.S. policymakers agree so quickly to give $120 billion to COVID-19 safety measures for our country’s schools, and provide over $100 billion to Ukraine, but not such an influx of funds to keep our children and teachers safe?
“Run, Hide, Fight” was developed with good intentions. However, this does nothing to address the “prevention” of active shooters, and the word “hide” will never be a word I use in my training seminars. Creating space and distance with the shooter will always be your best course of action. Hiding gets you killed.
As a nationally recognized expert on active shooter prevention, I do a lot of public speaking. At each presentation, I ask the parents in attendance if they’ve ever asked their children’s teachers at parent-teacher conferences, “What’s your plan in the event of an active shooter?” How are you going to protect my child? I am always surprised how few parents ask this question.
Parents should exercise due diligence and demand to see their school’s active shooter response plan. They need to know if the plan is solid, safe and effective.
Each community must develop a strategy that works for them, based on best practices and tactics and developed from the multitude of school shootings and the difficult lessons learned. While training our first responders on how to respond is essential, police officers are still human and prone to failure, as demonstrated in Uvaldeand Parkland, Florida.
A key part of preventing these acts of violence is to focus on those most likely to commit these heinous acts. It should be noted that in the Uvalde and Parkland shootings, students and teachers said they were not surprised when the identity of the shooter came to light.
Why was a “threat assessment” not performed on the individual? Why was the individual not interviewed, along with his parents, siblings, friends, classmates, teachers and the school counselor? During these interviews, it was determined that the person was indeed on this path to violence.
Contrary to widely held beliefs, these violent offenders do not just “break down” and decide that day to commit mass murder. Post-event research and analysis show that the offender followed a “pathway” that led to the violence. If we can find a way to cross this path to violence, then maybe we can prevent violence.
For this to work, we need to invest in our school guidance program. The average student-to-counsellor ratio in the United States is 482 to 1. This is almost double the 250 to 1 recommended by the American School Counselor Association. Our prison system has a much better prisoner-to-counsellor ratio than our schools.
A reporting portal should be in place for students, staff and family members to report suspicious behavior and safety issues.
Another “easy fix” is to place a highly trained and armed individual (or two) in every school in America. This could be a police officer, a school resource officer, or a retired military or law enforcement officer.
Either way, all must pass rigorous psychological testing and master de-escalation techniques, intelligence gathering, crime prevention, dispute resolution, life safety medical response, and active threat response. . These protectors of our children must be hand-selected and the best of the best, not run-of-the-mill, poorly trained, underpaid security guards.
For all new school construction or renovations, we need to look at what is called “crime prevention through environmental design” to improve the perimeter security of our schools while being aesthetically pleasing to the eye. By using CPTED we can establish concentric security rings that are invisible to the untrained eye.
Installing cameras in all American schools accessible by the police would be a great help. In the case of a school shooter, police dispatch can direct response officers to the exact location of the shooter.
For first responders, having this type of situational awareness would greatly improve their ability to deal with the threat as soon as they arrive. It could save precious minutes, which could save countless lives. Using technology readily available from commercial sources would greatly improve the safety of our schools.
Finally, it is time to reassess our school’s standard operating procedures, which require our students and teachers to remain in the school where the shooting is taking place. Perhaps we consider alternative solutions and incorporate the philosophy of “descending from the X”, that is, getting as far away from the shooting location as possible.
Keeping our schools and children safe requires collaboration, cooperation and coordination across many industries and government entities. Let’s bring together our brightest and most innovative minds and develop strategies and practices that address prevention and response. Let’s never again have a shooting at a school that will forever be defined as a “dismal failure.”
Greg Shaffer is the author of “Stay Safe – Security Secrets for Today’s Dangerous World” and the founder of the Dallas-based Shaffer Security Group. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
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