Safety & Security
- By Michael S. Dorn
- September 1st, 2016
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.
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.