The Power of the Pen
- By Michael S. Dorn
- July 1st, 2003
Many school officials point out that serious problems on campus often stem from outsiders. Trespassers present a challenge for schools, particularly those situated in high crime areas. Another problem involves students who are suspended from school, assigned to alternative placement programs or are facing expulsion. Yet another difficult scenario involves a parent or guardian who acts in a significantly disorderly fashion at a school.
There is a tried and true remedy that can help to effectively address each of these problems — the criminal trespass warning form or barring slip. While now in use in most school districts, a number of districts still have not discovered the enormous preventive power of these simple slips of paper. Others do not use them to their full potential. The warning form is simply a written notification that a particular individual is banned from entering school property. If the individual returns to school property once the warning is issued, a solid criminal case against the individual thaencan be supported with a written document.
How it works
First, using the advice of local law enforcement officers and prosecutors, design a simple criminal trespass form (for a sample form, visit my Website at ). Develop guidelines on the use of the forms, and ask a law enforcement officer, preferably a school resource officer (SRO) or a representative from the prosecutor’s office to provide a short briefing for administrators from each school on the trespassing laws of your state, along with examples of when and how the forms can be issued. Normally, it is best for police officers to actually issue the warnings on the behalf of administrators and for law enforcement to maintain the forms. This helps to keep the administrator from being tied up in court and allows officers to arrest trespassers who are found on school property after normal school hours. As one example, school police officers found a recently suspended student at his school late at night and took him into custody. Further investigation revealed that he was there to commit arson.
Another reason to call in the SRO to issue the warning is to try to prevent retaliatory violence. When the SRO routinely issues the warnings, they are in a better position to spot students returning to commit an act of violence. A good example of where this could have been helpful was the multiple-victim shooting in Jonesboro, Ark., where one of the students who perpetrated the shooting returned after being suspended to commit the assault. Many weapons assaults have been prevented by alert SROs who knew who to look for because they had been involved in banning a suspended student. Many districts make it a standard practice to ban suspended students from all district properties and special events during the period of their suspension. In the Bibb County (Ga.) Public School System, the alternative school director began having his school police officer ban all students from all other school properties during intake processing, just in case the home school principal had neglected to do so.
Keeping Undesirable Elements Away
Criminal trespass warnings have prevented much trouble from outsiders, particularly gang members. A Georgia SRO averted an imminent gang shooting when he arrested three gang members when they returned to campus shortly after he issued them trespass warnings. Upon searching their car, he found a loaded shotgun, a rifle and a handgun. An investigation confirmed that they had come to the campus to kill a student. The criminal trespass warning form allows police and school officials to ban gang members, drug dealers, child molesters and other miscreants before they commit a crime on campus. Thus, it is one of the most powerful tools of campus crime prevention when used wisely. Some districts require students who plan to bring nonstudent dates to functions to have the date provide their name, date of birth and address to the SRO, so they can be cross checked against the criminal trespass list before they are authorized to attend.
While no one likes the idea of banning a parent or guardian from their child’s school, there are occasions where this is preferable to the consequences of allowing a parent to act in a disruptive fashion, particularly if they do so in front of students. Another option is to have a conference with the individual and to have the SRO explain that they will be banned from the campus if they do not comply with campus policies.
By formulating solid guidelines and consistently backing up words with actions, criminal trespass forms can be a very effective dose of preventive medicine for those who refuse to conduct themselves appropriately on campus.
MICHAEL S. DORN has been a full-time campus safety practitioner for 23 years. He can be reached at .
Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.