Article Archive Details
Hendon Publishing

Protecting School Students & Teachers

Research shows that there are over 98,000 schools (K-12) throughout the U.S. This gives anyone bent on mayhem numerous viable targets to attack. 

More than 50 million students matriculate at these learning sites, most of which are classified by law enforcement experts as “soft” targets


because they are so lightly protected from armed attack.


Mass killers are drawn to soft targets like moths are to light because they are target-rich sites, which can be turned quickly into bloody “killing grounds.” Many American educators and law enforcement officials are aware of this growing threat and seem to be addressing it more realistically. Even so, more work needs to be done to protect students everywhere from the dangers posed by active shooters.   

To those who may say “we don’t want schools to be armed camps,” reality suggests an obvious need to improve security at most sites throughout the nation. The protectors must stay ahead of the “bad guys.” Incident after incident has shown that schools, campuses and malls have become the favorite venue for armed shooters. When school shooting incidents occur, police and security experts analyze them to determine how schools can be better protected. 

As we learn more about the methodology of these attackers, we must continue to apply what we are learning to the important mission of protecting students and employees. Unfortunately, media coverage of these events gives potential shooters a great deal of training material to improve their lethality. The “copy-cat” aspect of many of these events is readily evident to many of the professionals who strive to prevent them.

The shooter is not the only key player in these scenarios. Vital participants to all school protection programs include administrators, parents, employees, students and local first responders. Parents can become “quality control” managers by asking critical questions of school administrators about protection efforts. Parents have a right to know the school their children attend is reasonably protected. 

When was the last safety and security assessment, for example? If it occurred more than three years ago, it is dated and needs to be revised. Are the assessors used qualified, trained and experienced, or political allies of some school official? The credentials of the school assessors are extremely important.

The approach used to protect a site for the last few years might appear effective, but qualified experts can spot weaknesses that active shooters will exploit. By using state-of-the art technology (fences, access controls, locks, keys, cameras, procedures, trained personnel), we can deter and detect and defeat most armed attackers. 

In recent times, officials have begun to recognize the important linkage between mental health and targeting active shooters. Without being critical of those who suffer from behavioral health issues or insulting those who have dedicated themselves to their welfare, officials must continue to explore these vital social linkages. As the number of behaviorally challenged persons soars, so does the likelihood that more schools (and campuses) will come under armed attack until schools learn how to better detect and support persons in crisis.    

While all students are exposed to risks relating to drive-by shootings, drug-deals gone bad, disgruntled employees, child custody disputes, unsecured firearms at home, etc., the greatest threat to the largest number of innocent people at educational facilities is the well-armed shooter who has planned the attack. 

A primary goal of every school district in the nation should relate the capacity of each school to deter, detect, and cope with an active shooter assault. There is growing evidence to show that enhanced protection can save lives. Veteran police officers know that violent criminals tend to be unusually “street-smart” and can sense danger quickly. Schools displaying obvious high levels of protection may be at much lower risk of attack than other facilities.  

Few discussions of school security fail to mention firearms. Wayne LaPierre of the NRA called for more armed officers in American schools but his call met with resistance. In light of new evidence, his idea deserves a second look. Firearms have played a major role in American culture for centuries. Initially, they were used for self-protection, hunting, law enforcement, militia duty and fighting “savages” and Redcoats. 

Over time, firearms determined how the nation would be governed. Given that all government involves a degree of coercion, the Founders were determined to prevent the government from ever becoming more powerful than its citizens. While all human rights, especially those found in the Bill of Rights, were vitally important, so was the ultimate right of citizens to protect themselves from official abuse. 

From the beginning, lawmen, military personnel and armed citizens brought law and order to frontier territories, each state and subsequently to the nation. American folklore abounds with stories depicting this process as evidenced through tales about Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, The Alamo, Fort Apache, Tombstone, and the Civil War. 

Moreover, some of the greatest firearms pioneers in the world were Americans (Colt, Henry, Smith &Wesson, Remington, Marlin). Over time, the gun industry has grown to employ thousands of taxpaying workers, and the industry has spent excessive amounts of money developing better firearms, equipment and ammunition. Today, experts estimate there are up to 350 million firearms in the United States today, meaning there may be more guns than there are people.

The American news media, electronic games, and entertainment industries have been fueling firearms awareness for over a century. Some foreign countries, in fact, base their military doctrine on this awareness of an “armed America.” Given all of this, the possibility of removing all firearms from American society appears highly unlikely. Putting guns in the hands of well-trained personnel inside American schools, as LaPierre also suggested, seems to offer more potential value than unsuccessful efforts to eliminate firearms altogether.

Growing evidence shows the importance of the peacemaker role played by firearms continues to be significant today. When the presence of armed police doesn’t deter shooters, it frequently results in quick intervention thereby saving lives and preventing injuries. An SRO deputy at Columbine high school, for example, initiated a gunfight with one of the shooters that most likely saved lives. 

A killer who assaulted a Jewish Community Center (Los Angeles) around the same time avoided other locations because of the presence of armed guards. In 2001, officers on site in a California school stopped a shooter who had already killed two and wounded 13, and the officers first on scene at a major Cleveland university in 2003 pinned down the gunman, preventing more death and injury. 

In 2009, a shooter who had killed five and wounded four in a Salt Lake mall was held down by an off-duty officer with a handgun until more help could arrive. In 2012, a deputy working in a theatre complex out west heard gunshots and quickly responded to stop the shooter. More incidents of this nature, often virtually ignored by the national news industry, tend to support LaPierre’s contention that carefully selected and well-trained armed police officers can make an important and critical difference when posted at “soft target” locations. 

If that is true, the growing ranks of American’s retired law enforcement officers should be considered a major asset. They are authorized, under federal law, to carry concealed weapons after meeting specific training requirements. Many of them could be easily certified by state police officials to become cost-effective uniformed school resource and security officers thus enhancing protection programs at schools, campuses, hospitals, malls, sporting events, etc. 

In some parts of the country, well-trained volunteer officers might be available to randomly patrol the schools or other potential “soft target” areas (already underway in Maricopa County, Arizona). On college and university campuses, a small student fee could subsidize the use of armed police on campus. While not everyone agrees with such an approach, common sense dictates that most people bent on mayhem and crime are readily deterred by the presence of armed police personnel.   

Are armed police personnel, not serving as volunteers, “too expensive” to be practical? Some officials contend that may be the case while other schools simply consider it a priority and already utilize armed police officers and/or deputy sheriffs to protect students and employees.   

Second, armed officers do not have to be present in every building constantly each day because they can be rotated, thereby reducing the cost of their deployment. The mere possibility of police presence can prove to be an effective deterrent.


Mobile officers, as opposed to fixed position personnel, serve to frustrate potential aggressors because they can’t be sure where or when the police might suddenly appear. Third, instead of carrying the cost burden itself, a school district can share the cost of armed police personnel with another unit of government or seek subsidies, grants and donations to off-set the costs. If a community decides that the presence of armed police in local schools is a definite priority, ways and means will be found to finance their presence.

School safety isn’t a one-dimensional concept. It requires a collaborative approach to student safety driven by trust relationships built over time between public officials, school administrators and staff, local law enforcement, parents, teachers, taxpayers, and the news media. A popular novel once suggested that “it takes a village to raise a child.” Community policing experts and professional security practitioners know it “takes the village” to protect the child. 

Student protection cannot exist in a vacuum where only those “responsible” for it are involved in the process. A comprehensive approach to student-security involves unique solutions to important problems, both at the community level and within the schools themselves. Success will come only when leaders fully understand the level of danger that now encompasses the world. A vicious attack by an armed intruder can come at any time, and should one occur, everyone needs to be ready to act in a coordinated fashion. 

A cooperative crisis plan, coupled with armed school resource officers, can result in a learning environment where teachers can teach more effectively and students can learn more simply because they feel safer. While such an approach doesn’t necessarily guarantee safety, it does serve to build confidence, respect and trust among all of the safety and security program participants. 


Chief James T. McBride, M.P.A. and C.L.E.E., teaches community policing at Lakeland Community College (Ohio) and is the co-author of the book

K-PhD School and Campus Shootings Awareness.                                                                                

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2015

Rating : Not Yet Rated

Related Products



No Comments

Article Images

Click to enlarge images.

Close ...