In response to several school shootings there has been a large push to allow armed personnel or to add school resource officers on campus. This is a popular approach that has gained traction over the last few years. There can be a financial cost for additional personnel, training and potential liability. Outside of these factors there are several important pieces of information that have been revealed within recent studies that should also be understood.
While the perception of safety from staff and parents to having more guns in school is generally higher the students don’t normally feel safer. Students tend to see uniformed personnel as policing them not protecting them. In schools that have implemented SRO programs the likelihood of police involvement in non-violent incidents has gone up. An officer in the school is more likely to intervene in an event that would previously be handled by the administrative staff alone. There has also been an increase in other uses of force from empty hand control techniques, deployment of intermediate weapons and arrests. Finally, as the number of guns has increased our students are more likely to be involved in an accidental weapons incident than a real shooting.
It is also often stated that an armed personnel are a deterrent to school shootings. There have been several recent instances of intruders attacking schools with armed guards. Marshall County, KY, Parkland, FL & Sante Fe, TX all had armed campus officers at the time of the shooting. Officers are usually not in the right place at the time of the shooting because the perpetrator plans around them. Unfortunately, the hardest part for schools is getting the armed responders to the right place in the building. This has been an obstacle that schools overlook when implementing policy changes. Notification systems are a simple solution to resolve this breakdown in communication.
The perception of safety does not always correlate into a more secure campus environment. School administrators should be cautious about measures that can severely impact the profile of security in school without adding a substantial benefit. The best course of action in a crisis is getting the trained professionals to the exact location of the crisis and notifying staff to initiate the emergency action plan. Until this can be accomplished the other issues ought to be considered secondary solutions.