You Can Prevent Most School Shootings

Recent school shootings in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and the tragic hostage situation leaving one student dead in Colorado have once again raised serious concerns about school weapons assaults. However, media coverage can distort the real risk level — for example, the intensive media coverage of k-12 school shootings in this country has perpetuated a series of myths in our society. Some of those myths include the following.

•The horrific Columbine High School attack involved the greatest loss of life of any violent incident carried out at a U.S. k-12 school.

•K-12 schools experience more fatal weapons assaults per capita than institutions of higher learning.

•Homicide rates have increased on American k-12 campuses

•The largest loss of life in an American school resulted from an act of violence.

While the intensive media coverage increases our concerns about these pressing issues, we must continue to break down the fatal mindset that“it will never happen here,” and instead lead people to ask“can we prevent school weapons assaults?” The clear answer is demonstrated by dramatic reductions of school shootings in large urban districts like New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

It may also be helpful to review techniques from one of the most successful school weapons reduction programs outside a large urban district setting. These techniques are adaptable to public and private school systems of all sizes. Drawing in part upon the array of innovative techniques developed in the Bibb County (GA) Public School Police Department, we shall review the latest in proven methodologies. These techniques helped successfully thwart six planned school shootings, one planned school bombing, and a planned double suicide, while reducing weapons violations in the district by more than 90 percent during a 10-year period.

These techniques are in use by thousands of school systems and private schools, ranging from some of the nation’s most respected private schools to large districts like the New York City Public School System.

Policies

A good place to begin is in reviewing policies and procedures governing the conduct of employees, students, and visitors. Thinking beyond policies prohibiting weapons is important because basic safety and security procedures can have a direct impact on the perceived “need” for a violator to carry and use a weapon at school.

Reduction of Triggering Behaviors

Reviewing hundreds of campus weapons assaults, we have discovered some patterns. School officials must use a broad approach to prevent the more common non-fatal or single-victim shootings, or edged and impact weapon assaults, while also addressing the more rare acts of targeted, multiple victim violence.

An effective prevention strategy addresses a wide range of weapons under a variety of conditions. Every fight on campus increases the likelihood of a weapons assault on campus. When students fight, they are far more likely to shoot, stab, or beat a classmate. Working to reduce the presence of triggering behaviors like fights, throwing of gang hand signs, and other precursors to violence is crucial.

Multi-disciplinary Threat Assessment

The power of using a team including an administrator, a mental health professional, and a law enforcement officer to conduct a thorough and balanced investigation and evaluation of individuals who have reportedly made threatening statements or writings has proven to be a reliable and effective means to resolve potentially deadly situations. First used in Bibb County in the early 1990s, this highly effective technique has been dramatically improved and disseminated through the research and training programs by the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Secret Service.

Appropriate Access Control Measures

Using appropriate technology and practices to establish reasonable access control can help prevent weapons assaults involving intruders. School officials should evaluate their current access control measures with a critical eye to determine possible improvements.

Criminal Trespass Warning Slips

This tool has also proven effective at preventing problems in k-12 schools. Having security and police personnel ban high-risk individuals from the property before they commit a serious crime can prevent homicides and aggravated assaults, as well as increase the general level of safety and order.

Traffic Enforcement

Research conducted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police proved that traffic enforcement is one of the most effective means to seize unlawful drugs and firearms. Using aggressive traffic enforcement techniques, the Bibb School Police halted a series of six gang-related shootings that occurred in 90 days near public schools. During the following 90 days, school police issued more than 2,000 traffic citations and arrested nearly 300 people pursuant to traffic stops. Intensive traffic enforcement will reduce the likelihood of a drive-by shooting at or near a school if gangs are an issue in your community.

Information and Educational Efforts

The use of video presentations, classroom training sessions, outlining policies during employee and new student orientations, posters, signs, weapons-free contracts, PSAs, clearly written student handbook policies addressing weapons, and other efforts can go a long way to prevent weapons violations. Clearly communicating your organization’s policies and state laws concerning weapons possession on the property can dramatically reduce violations.

Dress Code

Our popular concealed weapons demonstrations quickly show that any school lacking a positive dress code policy has greater vulnerability to a shooting. Not only does experience demonstrate that dress codes can, in fact, reduce gun violations, but a dress code enhances weapons detection techniques like visual weapons screening.

Visual Weapons Screening

Visual weapons screening has averted a number of planned shootings. These simple, yet powerful, techniques are effective, inexpensive, and non-intrusive. Simply put, staff are trained to spot the physical behaviors that indicate a person may be carrying a weapon, and they can use these techniques by simply observing students and visitors.

Metal Detection and Security X-ray equipment

Dramatic results are possible with these life-saving devices when used properly. Random metal detection is an excellent example of how security technology can be adapted to the school, rather than trying to make the school adapt to the technology. In general, we do not recommend the use of airport-style security screening for schools.

Gun Detection Dogs

Another proven deterrent is the use of gun detection dogs to check public areas, vehicles, and lockers for firearms and ammunition. A trained dog (or swine) can often detect a firearm or ammunition inside a car by smelling from the outside. Dogs can check lockers, public areas, school grounds, and parking lots, but should never be used to search students directly.

Plain View Vehicle Checks

Another effective tool is the plain view vehicle check. Officers simply walk around vehicles in parking areas and look into windows for weapons that are visible from outside the car. The awareness created by this technique dramatically reduces the number of weapons in cars on campus. Since many school weapons assaults involve weapons retrieved from cars, this is an especially effective technique for high schools and special events.

Armed Officers

Dozens of campus shootings have demonstrated that is patently unsafe, reckless, and even negligent for educators to search students for weapons. If campus safety personnel are not armed, local police should assist in searching suspects for weapons. Far too many people have been shot, stabbed, and taken hostage on campus during searches by unarmed and untrained school staff.

An increasing number of progressive school police departments and school resource officer programs are equipping their patrol cars with tactical rifles and carbines, which can dramatically reduce the chances that deadly force will need to be employed. The danger to officers and innocent bystanders is generally reduced if an officer discharges this type of weapon rather than the relatively inaccurate handgun. Of course, hiring and training standards must reflect the responsibility of armed officers.

More than a dozen students were gunned down in China last year, a country where mere possession of a firearm can result in swift application of the death penalty. Canadian and British schools have had their share of school weapons assaults. Even Japanese schools have experienced multiple victim homicides in recent years. Likewise, when we taught in Vietnam this summer, we learned that school edged-weapon assaults have occurred there as well. Apparently, no amount of legislation or societal control measures can absolutely guarantee school weapons assaults will not occur. At the same time, developing a comprehensive, locally tailored, and realistic strategy of interlocking techniques focused on prevention can dramatically reduce the chances of a weapons assault at any school.

Michael and Chris Dorn have trained hundreds of thousands of educators and law enforcement officials from across the globe in state of the art techniques to prevent school weapons assaults. For additional information and a downloadable weapons concealment demonstration video and a disguised weapons tutorial, visit the Free Resources section of www.safehavensinternational.org.

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