Safety & Security

Surge Capacity

When I was a school district police chief in Georgia, we created a special operations unit in our department. Our district was located in a community with an unusually high level of violent crime and gang activity. This unit prevented several school shootings over time. This team of three hand-picked officers proved to be an invaluable asset for the district in relation to the cost. The unit afforded us the opportunity to rapidly beef up the level of officers at any location in the district without pulling officers from other campuses.

Security Director Doug Tripp from the Orange County (Fla.) Public School System refers to this capability as “surge capacity”. This can be an incredibly valuable approach for larger school districts. For example, when our gang intelligence officers told us they had received indications that a shooting would occur at Southeast High School at the end of the school day, the unit’s sergeant was able to disrupt the attack in it’s early stages and no one was injured.

Two of the team’s officers were recognized by the FBI Bulletin for the valor they exhibited that day. This is but one example of acts of violence which were prevented by the special operations unit.

The special operations unit provided a number of other valuable services without taking coverage away from the district’s secondary, alternative and elementary school personnel. When there were no specific indications of impending activity, the team would deploy at a different school each morning and afternoon. Gang members or others who might be planning an attack at a school had to contend with the possibility that instead of two officers, they might have to contend with five officers on any given school day.

Officers from this unit also periodically rode school buses to serve as a deterrent for planned attacks on our bus fleet and assaults of students as they got off of the bus at their bus stops. Gang members quickly learned that any bus could have an officer on board. Officers from this team also provided live training sessions to more than 3,000 students each year.

These officers also routinely conducted surprise driver’s license checkpoints on city streets adjacent to schools in neighborhoods with high rates of violent crime. This measure was adopted after six gang-related shootings took place on city streets adjacent to our secondary schools during a 90-day period. During the next six months, officers from the special operations unit issued more than 2,000 traffic citations and arrested more than 300 people.

There were no shootings on city streets adjacent to secondary schools in the district for several years. We also noted a further drop in the number of firearms and knives recovered from students. This was apparently because students no longer felt the need to carry a gun or knife to school to help them protect themselves from gang members while they were walking to and from their school.

When the team was disbanded by a new school superintendent after I left the department, a gang shooting occurred next to a high school campus within two months. In another tragic incident, a primary school teacher was beaten unconscious and raped in an area that had been heavily targeted by the team before it was disbanded. In addition, the district experienced a dramatic increase in student weapons violations on campus.

The district experienced several edged weapons incidents and an incident where a student accidentally discharged a handgun after the team was disbanded and the random weapons screenings were discontinued. As soon as the random weapons screening program was resumed, the number of student weapons violations and the weapons assaults that had resumed being annual events dropped like a rock.

For school systems with the ability to rapidly deploy additional security or police officers without reducing coverage by officers assigned to other schools can be an incredible asset. While the specific approached utilized may be different than those that were appropriate for the school system described above, the concept can be adapted to fit the needs of your schools.

One or more small teams of officers that can be readily moved to address school security concerns can provide considerable benefit in relation to the costs of fielding these types of teams. This approach can also be far more cost-effective than adding additional officers to each secondary school. We have conducted numerous school security assessments for public school systems where this approach was logical. Consider the possibility that surge capacity might be a practical means to enhance the security of your schools.

This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

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.

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