Armed “School Protection Officers” – Pitfalls and Kneejerks

School shootings will hardly disappear from the agenda any time soon, and that’s a good thing. The phenomenon is especially prevalent in the US, where the history of armed attacks on and in schools stretches back to 1764, when 4 native Americans entered a school house near Greencastle, killing the school master and 9 or 10 students. In the 2000’s, the number of schools in the US have been right around 137,000 and the number of school shootings has not gone down. Most notable, perhaps, are the shootings at Bath, MI (45 killed), the Virginia Tech massacre (33 killed), Sandy Hook (26 killed) and Columbine (15 killed) simply because of the number of victims. Now, the state of Indiana wants to take action, it seems. But is it a good idea?

“Resource Officers”, “Protection Officers” and Law Enforcement

Indiana wants there to be a protection officer in all public schools, at all times. This person doesn’t need to be employed specifically as such, but can be a teacher, or part of the administration for that matter. This person must be armed with a loaded firearm at all times. Not a taser or things like that – in fact, the new law will specify that it has to be a firearm, not a non-lethal weapon. On its own, that should raise some flags for security professionals. We should look a little closer, however.

Who is this protection officer, then? Or “resource officer”, for that matter? Well, according to the new law, the designated person must go through and pass law enforcement officer training, and complete another 40 hours of “resource officer” training, whatever that is. If this is really carried through, that’s a good thing – we could actually stand behind a “resource officer” with LE training and gun in hand. The danger is, however, that policies will be enacted to create some leniency in these rules, just to get these “resource officers” out there and on the job. Also… do we really want teachers with guns on their hips, standing around in class rooms and jotting stuff on blackboards?

In addition to having the “resource officer” present, the schools are supposed to carry out risk assessment and take other steps (possibly tech-wise) to prevent weapons and dangerous stuff entering the school property/area. If experience speaks for anything, some schools are bound to pile risk assessments and purchasing power over security tech over on the resource officer, who, from what we can glean from the text, won’t at all be qualified to do that kind of thing. A risk assessment is a basic, vital step in any security plan and/or process, and should always be done by someone with either experience or specific training in them. Not a “resource officer” with some LE training.

Also, in our humble opinion… just because you’re a cop, that doesn’t mean you know diddly-squat about security. We’re just sayin’.

Symptoms vs. Causes

It’s an age-old discussion, of course, and it gets tiring pretty quickly. However, this seems to be another knee-jerk reaction to a flurry of tragic incidents, where the reaction is to treat the symptom instead of the cause of the problems. You can shoot a would-be killer, but that simply does nothing what so ever about why that shooter was there in the first place, and why there will be others following in his (or her, if that ever happens) footsteps.

If you, on top of that, have teachers roaming the hallways with guns and just a bare minimum of training after completing a not-very-professional risk assessment, that is going to compound the problems on top of the symptoms-only treatment. That’s all we’re going to say on that… maybe.

Risk and Threat Assessment when Profiling is Useless

According to the FBI, profiling a school shooter is useless. That’s because the final profile would fit far too many (a very high percentage of) students and pupils in the 140,000+ schools around the US. This will inevitably complicate the risk assessment process to such a degree that no one should even attempt one without the help of a very seasoned security (not LE) professional.

A risk assessment has to include as much information as possible, and one of those pieces of information is a loose profile of local and regional crime, and the risk posed by users/inhabitants/employees of the institution or place the assessment is made for. Since school shooters can’t be profiled, this makes for a significant hurdle.

Another problem with risk assessment is working out a suitable approach to people who “break the rules” or steps outside of the boundaries that have been set around acceptable behavior. Is it appropriate, for example, for the “resource officer” to brandish a weapon at students who won’t sit still in class, or keeps sending spitballs at the teacher or the blackboard? At what point can this “resource officer” consider the student or “intruder” (say… an angry parent stalking the hallways looking for his/her kid who crashed the family minivan on their way to school) a “threat” and actually use the weapon? A school environment is a very shifty place to bring a gun, especially when the threat and risk assessments are so difficult.

What to do?

We won’t profess to have answers to all these questions. What we do know is that careful risk assessment, careful threat assessment and profiling as accurate as possible are all parts of a professional, working security scheme for any institution, school, workplace or business. Leaving it in the hands of a teacher with 40 hours of “resource officer” training and LE training on top of that is not a viable route.

The main question to ask, really, is; Is more guns in schools the way to solve the problem of guns in schools?


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