On Facebook, I was recently asked by a family member the following question:
“Richard – question: Could a police officer be set up in public school buildings so instead of writing your reports at city hall, the day crew could take advantage of the better computers at the schools and be there to provide some added security? Just a thought. I don’t see arming teachers as a solution.”
As any family member of mine knows, if you ask me a question you’re going to get an answer. Unfortunately, sometimes the answer is a bit long, as this one is. I’ve chosen to answer the question posed to me here on this blog instead of on Facebook because the format here allows for longer posts and doesn’t subject me to being called an “asshole” like Facebook does.
You may be surprised that the answer to this is more complicated than it appears. You also may be surprised that what jumped out at me with this question wasn’t the idea of officers doing their report at schools. What I initially focused on was the very last sentence. “I don’t see arming teachers as a solution.” Since she brought it up, I’m going to discuss it at the end of this post. But first the answer.
I haven’t talked to author of this question so I have to make some assumptions. My first thought to the question is, “What are we (our society and probably the author of the question) trying to avoid?” Well, we are trying to avoid another school shooting. In my opinion, we can not avoid ever having another school shooting. Ever. But is it the school shooting we are trying to avoid? Or any kind of school or other location mass homicide? Well, we can not ever avoid that either. Ever. I’ve said it on this blog and I’ve said to others, we can not rid our society of evil. It will always be with us and around us. Always.
Since we (at least I) know it will happen again regardless of the laws passed by Congress or your state and local representatives, we must focus on something else. I think that focus should be on deterrence and confrontation. We must make it more difficult to carry out the act and we must stop it as quickly as possible once it begins.
Also, one must understand the type of person who carries out these crimes. In broad terms, there are two general types. There is the deranged, homicidal maniac like Columbine, Aurora, Trolly Square Mall and Newtown. These killers share one common trait. They are all cowards. That is why they pick the targets they do and why they kill themselves or cower in a corner when confronted by a good guy with a gun. The other type of killer is the goal oriented, unafraid of dying terrorist. These people are cold, calculating, fierce, trained and completely willing to die before they surrender. Read about the Beslan School takeover and the Nord-Ost Siege for a good examples. The former we have seen a number of times and is what America is most familiar with, unfortunately. The later is coming. And don’t fool yourself into thinking they are not. Our country is not prepared for either of these people.
Now that we know we can not stop them (at least I know we can’t, you may still disagree) and we know who they are, what we (again society) should really be asking is, “How do we deter another shooting or mass homicide?” We can deter one. But how?
I think having officers writing their reports in schools is one layer to a multi-faceted approach to deterrence. But this layer is very thin. I feel it is thin because it’s not consistent and it is visible. It is not consistent because the deterrence of an officer writing reports on site is of a short duration. They may only be on site for a short amount of time during the day. And it is visible since their marked patrol car is in front of the school.
Lets think again about the cowardly maniac. He does not want confrontation. He wants easy access to victims in a nice confined area where they can’t escape. Which is why schools are perfect for them. The killer pulls up and sees a patrol car at the school and what would he do? Some might go forth anyway, true. Maybe they get lucky and catch the officer off guard on the computer typing away or having coffee in the principles office. Maybe not. Still other killers will simply drive away to come back another day or pick a different target with no obvious deterrent out front. As you can see, there is a level of deterrence here. I hope you can also understand why that level of deterrence is thin and by no means a guarantee.
I can’t speak for where you, the reader, may live but here in Boise all five of our high schools have a full time School Resource Officer (SRO) on site. Unless they are off doing other daily duties. That still leaves 39 other junior highs and elementary schools without full time, on site SROs. Those schools do have SROs assigned to them, but they are not on-site full time. Talk to the Mayor about funding, don’t complain to the police chief. There simply is no way to have SROs and patrol officers in all 39 of those other schools on an effective rotation. Just not possible. Again, go study the Columbine High School shooting. Hence, in my opinion, the deterrence factor for police officers writing their reports in the schools is very low.
That is why I think it is a valid layer of deterrence, but that must be just one layer of a more complex layer of deterrence. These other layers could, but are not limited to, bullet proof/resistant glass, bullet proof/resistant doors and walls, escape and evade drills among other things.
So, now we have discussed deterrence. What if deterrence fails? Then what? Hide in a closet and pray? That’s what victims do. Throw a book at the killer? Bold and possibly even heroic, but again, victims fight guns with books. Tackle the attacker and hold him down till police arrive 5 – 9 minutes later? Another heroic deed for certain and this has been successful in the past. But again, try fighting with someone for 5 minutes. That was part of my training and I’m here to tell you, it’s very difficult.
Confrontation is what happens when deterrence fails. Police tactics changed after Columbine. These tactics, unfortunately, have proven very effective in many real active-shooter circumstances. The Trolley Square Mall shooting, for instance. There are others examples. Suffice it to say, confrontation that is immediate, decisive and deadly is the best hope for surviving a mass homicide scenario. This has been proven with historical evidence.
Let’s revisit that last sentence in the question again. “I don’t see arming teachers as a solution.” As you probably know and understand why, I don’t believe there is a solution. There simply isn’t one. Evil exists. It will always exist. One answer, which this question brings up, that moves towards a ‘solution’ is a layered approach to deterrence followed by immediate confrontation.
This is why I believe arming teachers is another valid layer in the protection of our schools.
I’m not advocating it on a mandatory basis. Again, I don’t know where you, the reader, is at but here in Idaho you can’t tell me there aren’t hundreds, if not thousands, out of the approximately 12,000 school teachers in this state that don’t hunt or have a concealed carry permit outside of school. These individuals already have basic handgun and/or rifle training and go to shooting ranges as part of their hobby or sport. Funding a similar training regime that I go through at work and equipping them for work is much, much cheaper than the approximately $120,000 a year a police officer costs. And instead of getting one trained security person for that $120,000 you could get half a dozen or more, depending on the size of the school.
I understand the concern about teachers carrying concealed and some crazy kid trying to take their gun. We have crazy people on the street who try to take police officer’s gun too. Part of the equipment we use is what is called a level 3 holster that has multiple retention straps. It is very difficult for someone, even someone bigger than I, to get that gun out. Since it’s not impossible, training must be done in weapons retention. These are all things that teachers who volunteer for this program must be able to successfully complete and recertify on a regular basis. This photo is very similar to what I carry at work.
There are other options to carrying a gun on your person. There are biometric safes for guns. These can be placed under a desk or on a wall like a fire extinguisher. Some of you may be laughing, but I’m serious. These safes can store the biometric data of those teachers trained in using a gun in school (usually a thumb print) and can be accessed just like an Automated External Defibrillator (AED), a first aid kit or a fire extinguisher. I really don’t understand what is so fearful about such a thing. Other than the simple stigma of a gun.
There are many layers to school and public building deterrence to a crazed, homicidal killer. I only covered in detail one layer of that deterrence. I touched on some other deterrence, but tried to keep this response limited to what the original question posed. Since the original question brought up the topic of armed teachers I also took some liberty and addressed that as well. I hope I was able to shed some light on these things and I’m happy to share my opinions, as anyone who knows me knows all too well. Please do not underestimate the determination of the crazed gunman like what we saw in Newtown or Aurora. And please, do not under estimate the threat of armed terrorists taking over a school in the United States.
Historical evidence of previous shootings in malls and elsewhere demonstrates the value of armed confrontation of a homicidal killer. Historical evidence also demonstrates the lack of value of “gun free zones” and the disadvantage of hiding in a closet till police arrive.