Weapons On Campus
Weapons On Campus
Michael Dorn and Sonayia Shepherd (School Safety Analysts) gives expert video advice on: How can school administrators keep weapons off campus?; How does a tip reporting system assist in school safety?; What is visual weapons screening? and more...
How can school administrators keep weapons off campus?
First, you have to understand that weapons come to campus and are used on campus because of a variety of situations. So you have to have a broad view. For example, most school weapons assaults bear no resemblance to what happened at Columbine High School or Virginia Tech. Those are extraordinarily rare events and there are measures to prevent those that won't prevent the vast majority of weapons assaults. For example, most weapons assaults on a K-12 campus or a higher education campus stem from a fight. Every time you have a fight on campus, your chances of having a stabbing or a shooting go up. So by reducing fights on campus, you reduce weapons on campus and the likelihood that they'll be used, so keep a broad approach. Look at educational efforts to inform people about your well thought out policies. Think about the triggering behaviors like bullying and fights on campus. Think about the connectivity between staff and students. Think about, as appropriate, the use of security and safety technologies such as random metal detection, techniques like visual weapons screening, having staff trained to spot the physical behaviors of the gun violator. Gun detection dogs may be appropriate to occasionally sniff lockers and student vehicles. It all depends on your situation. Like other safety measures, you have to base it on an assessment approach. If you haven't surveyed, you really don't know what your present level of weapons violations are and you may not have measures to counter the threat that is there. So take an assessment approach and then customize the approach to fit your campus.
How does a tip reporting system assist in school safety?
Tip reporting lines and systems are very important. There are computer based systems, there are phone call lines, there are drop boxes. I think it's important to point out that the vast majority of student weapons violators do not tell anyone they have a weapon, and they don't show anyone that they have a weapon, so this should not be your primary defence. If that's your primary way of finding weapons on campus, you're missing most of what's there. At the same time, tips that are received about weapons are one of the most important ways to recover weapons that are more likely to be used. For example a student who is planning to come and attack multiple victims, in many cases will in some way telegraph their actions through words or their activities, so the tip may prevent some of the more serious types of incidents. But again, its our least reliable way to know when weapons are on our property. So we need to be sure that this is just one part of our strategy, like metal detectors. No one approach is going to take care of this problem. So it's a piece of it, it's one that should be emphasized in every school. It is one that every school should utilize.
What is visual weapons screening?
Visual weapon screening is one of the most effective ways to detect a gun and in many cases even other weapons like knives that come to campus. Basically, it's training staff how to spot the physical behaviors of the gun violator. There's no viable profile of someone who will carry a weapon to school let alone use it. But there are specific behaviors that people perform based on the presence of the weapon on their body. Certain adjustments of clothing certain ways that people move and walk that can be used to detect the weapon on their body. When I was a school district police chief, we stopped six planned school shootings that were imminent, and that were about to occur. Three of those were stopped because our police officers could detect that someone was carrying a weapon visually by looking at them. Padded them down, recovered the weapon, arrested them and then we learned that they were there to shoot and kill people. So it's a very effective way to prevent weapons assaults like metal detection, gun detection dogs or tip reporting lines. It's not foolproof, it's not the only means, but it's a very effective way for school bus driver, teacher, custodian, or other staff member, in many cases to spot dangers before anybody gets hurt.
Should school officials physically search a student for weapons?
It is incredibly dangerous, reckless and negligent for an unarmed, untrained individual to search for weapons. We've had a number of school officials shot, stabbed, taken hostage, innocent students and adults staff likewise injured and killed when school officials tried to do the job of a trained security or law enforcement officer. Only an armed and trained security or police officer should search anyone, students included, for weapons.
Are metal detectors necessary in school safety?
Metal detectors are appropriate for some schools, but they're not used in as many schools as they should be. They're often used inappropriately in schools, and we see many examples of that. Just like security cameras, we sometimes don't apply the equipment and technology the right way. But if you do have a problem with weapons and you've identified this through incidents that have occurred or surveys of students or other means, it's one technique, it's one strategy you may want to consider. Be sure, however, to adapt the technology to your school. Very few schools will find entry point metal detection to be their first option, unless you have an extraordinarily high threat. This method is much more effective and practical to use random surprise metal detection, but not detecting every student on surprise days when they come to the campus but basically going to the classroom or checking groups of students as they disembark from a bus or they're about to get on a bus. But we can prove it's a random process by drawing bus or classroom numbers. This system was developed by a student, a high school student, in Bibb county, Georgia many years ago and is now in place in many school systems across the United States and even now utilized by the transportation security administration to protect us at airports.
How can a clear school policy reduce weapons on campus?
Many weapons violators, if they understand what you want of them, they understand that there will be consequences, they understand that they are likely to be caught, will follow your policies. One of the things we sometimes see is school policies that aren't very well thought out and very clear when it comes to the issue of weapons. Make sure that your policies differentiate the different categories of weapons. There is a difference between a box cutter in a student's vehicle and a 9-millimeter handgun in a student's waistband. Both are serious weapons violations, and both should be addressed with a significant consequence, but they are probably going to need to be dealt with a little differently and having a zero tolerance policy per se is proven not to be very effective. We want to make sure that we have graded punishments, that we clearly identify the type of weapons that are prohibited and clearly outline the different types of consequences for weapons violations to not only our students, but our staff and our visitors. We found short video productions to be very effective to help reduce weapons violations in our district by clearly notifying students what type of weapons were prohibited, what would be done to catch violators and what consequences would occur when a violation was found.
Are surveillance cameras necessary for school safety?
When cameras are selective and stationed and located, if you will, in relation to a formal risk and vulnerability assessment, they can be very helpful. We've seen dramatic reductions in incidents. Unfortunately, many camera installations don't go that way. Often, cameras become a replacement for human supervision. Teachers and staff may think that cameras are watching students. Cameras should supplement, but not replace human supervision. They should be implemented as part of a comprehensive strategy. They are typically not one of the first things I recommend for schools to improve safety. At a certain point they become very valuable, but often we see cameras very unwisely used, and in many cases we've seen the cameras used against school in litigation to prove, for example, that a child was beaten, and how long this took, and to prove that there was not adequate supervision at the time. Apply cameras thoughtfully. One of the most useful applications for cameras is for proper access control. For example, to allow us to buzz someone into a side door, because we can look and see that that needs to be done, and who we are letting into the building. Thoughtfully applied they are very valuable, but unfortunately many times they are not used wisely.
What is the latest technology in school safety?
There are a variety of very impressive and very beneficial technology solutions for schools, proximity, access control systems that are almost like something out of Star Wars. These can really help improve access control, particularly for tough applications, schools with many entrances and multiple buildings. There are emergency notification concepts that are very beneficial. Many of our clients can notify 5,000 people in multiple languages in just a matter of a couple of minutes that there has been an incident at a school, refer them to the school website for details, encourage them not to come to the school, and tell them where to go for the family reunification center. The technologies are out there. Make sure that they fit your most pressing needs. Make sure that you apply the technology to fit your school instead of you dancing around the technology. Also, make sure that the technologies that you use have been used successfully in schools before. Unfortunately, we do sometimes see technologies that were put in at great expense and they're not even turned on each day. You can remotely lock down your entire campus at the flip of a button, but that technology has to be implemented thoughtfully by a vendor who understands your needs as a school.
How should schools weigh the value of privacy and the value of safety?
You should weigh privacy versus safety in a common sense and rational manner. My rights to disrupt, or disturb, or harm you end where your rights begin, and we have to be mindful of that. I see many occasions where school officials are a bit too sensitive to the rights of other individuals. We see cases where a small percentage of people attempt to speak for the majority that doesn't agree with them. So one thing that we can do is an ongoing dialogue with our staff, students, and parents. Educate them, help them understand why you want to do whatever it is and I think you'll avoid a lot of trouble that way. You won't probably try to put security cameras in your bathroom if you use that process because, I think through that process you'll find out it's not a very good idea. At the same time, if your issue is cameras in a parking lot, if you educate parents and students to the incidents that you've had that you're trying to stop, you'll probably gain support and find out that the measures you're thinking of are really rational, reasonable, and legal through that type of interaction and communication.
What are 'triggering behaviors'?
Triggering behaviors are those events that most commonly precede severe acts of violence at school. If you have a stabbing in your cafeteria, or a shooting on your playground, it's most likely going to stem from human behaviors that lead an individual to use a weapon. For example, the most common is a fight. Most campus weapon assaults don't involve a gun, they don't involve multiple victims, and they're not going to be reported on national news. They're going to be something like a verbal altercation that turns into a physical confrontation, and then a student pulls an edged weapon and stabs or slashes, and wounds an individual. If you can reduce fights on campus, you dramatically reduce your risk of a weapons assault. If gang members on your campus or next to your campus are allowed to throw gang hand signs, that's a very powerful triggering behavior. It's a call to action for gang members. I use the example, if you're a man and you're walking down the street with your wife, and someone then comes up and slaps your wife. That's how a gang member views someone using a disrespectful term or a hand sign against their gang. Others are bullying and trespassing on campus. These are the events that precede the weapons violence. It is important to make sure that we're not only sending a message and putting things in place to keep guns and knives off our campus, but also to minimize or, if possible, eliminate the physical and human behaviors that might lead an individual to feel the need to use a weapon to harm another person.