GUEST COLUMN: Ordinary citizens can boost school security

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By Martin Alan Greenberg
For the Daily Gazette

New York state now has a large array of new laws to protect students and others from mass murderers using assault weapons, but more can still be done.

Since at least the time of World War I, unpaid volunteer police, depending on the emergency as well as their levels of training, have provided a wide variety of services including: patrolling municipal buildings, parks, stadiums, playgrounds, and other public spaces as well as providing traffic support for races, parades, municipal events, and church functions.

Experts say the tragic lesson of the latest school mass shooting at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, is that there must be constant vigilance.

In addition, local school and police administrators have to continue to adapt strategies and tactics to keep-up with the fact that guns are readily available and that in the U.S. children are more likely to die from gun violence at a school than in any other country.

Steve James, an expert who has led training sessions on active-shooter situations for police agencies since the mid-1990s has stated that the very best way to make sure kids are safe inside their school is having systems in place to make sure a dangerous person doesn’t gain school access.

KEEP PROBLEM OUTSIDE

“The first step is not about the police responding to an in-progress tragedy,” he said. “It’s keeping the problem outside the school. So it’s physical security first.”

This knowledge, especially in an era of budget limitations, suggests that communities look to the power of the citizenry to improve school perimeter security.

Volunteers in a school setting need to emphasize eye contact and behavioral cues combined with comprehensive due diligence, common sense, and consistency.

PROTECTING PERIMETERS

They need to be posted along school security perimeters; starting at the point where visitors and vehicles arrive at the school gates.

If a school has no gate at its parking lot entrance, the school should establish such an entry point at its outermost fenced-in entry point.

Only persons, vehicles and passengers with appropriate identification should be permitted entry.

Such community volunteer officers should exchange a few words with the visitor or driver and/or occupants to gauge their mood and intentions.

Sophisticated hidden surveillance cameras should operate at all points of entry into buildings and along the school’s perimeter.

Monitoring should be done in real time.

At the school entrances, a similar check should be conducted and all people required to pass through metal detectors.

The availability of plastic weapons should not impede the discovery of metal bullets or the common sense/due diligence approach needed to identify potential threats.

CAMPUS PATROLS

Furthermore, redundancy requires that volunteer officers should routinely (but not on a schedule) patrol the school campus with special emphasis given to any people appearing suspicious or anxious.

In these cases, people should be approached and engaged in conversation in an effort to gauge their intentions and mood.

Importantly, school security should be layered in a pattern of concentric circles, with increasing scrutiny as individuals come closer to the school or enter into school buildings.

Community volunteer officers should pay close attention to the parts of the building and campus which are seldom frequented, such as back doors and fences around the perimeter in order to deter intrusions when weather prevents cameras from effectively broadcasting.

Since there are few guarantees in life and limitations on the availability of qualifying volunteers, inadequate staffing of posts and other security protocols may increase risks.

Minimally, the volunteer officers will form three rings of school protection: (a) gate and outer perimeter, (b) building entrances, and (c) building hallways and remote areas.

Nevertheless, a fourth ring of school safety is called for in today’s world.

IDENTIFYING THREATS

At all schools, this layer of protection should be composed of carefully selected teachers, staff, and community volunteers who can serve as an auxiliary unit for identifying any potential threats that might be posed by individuals whose social media postings or other contacts appear suspicious.

Specialized training should be provided for this highly sensitive purpose and the latest available “threat assessment” instruments should be used.

In this regard, all those persons engaged in campus security must be able to work closely with school personnel as well as off-campus intelligence officers in order to help detect threats before they occur.

School districts in New York state are already one-step ahead in implementing such a plan.

This is because volunteer “auxiliary police officers” are required to complete at least 100 hours of basic training for unarmed positions and with additional coursework could be trained to undertake the duties of a part-time school resource officer which requires a 40-hours basic course.

It must be noted that the use of community volunteers for the purposes of school perimeter security would only involve a very small fraction of what is currently being spent by school districts on campus safety upgrades.

Martin Alan Greenberg is a retired SUNY criminal justice professor and former court officer. He is the author of six books on community safety.

GUEST COLUMNS
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