Thursday, February 27, 2014

School shootings: Taking steps to create safer schools


David Jannetty conducting Campus Student Safety Training at Post University
Jannetty conducts Campus Safety Training 
As a parent there is nothing more precious to me than my children. I would do anything and everything I could to safeguard them.

Times have definitely changed from when I was a student. Columbine forever changed our reality when it comes to school safety.  Since then, school violence has become all too prevalent. We are a little more than a year removed from the horrific school shooting in Newtown, and more recently, there was a school shooting in New Mexico. In Connecticut, several colleges have gone into lockdown in the past year due to reported threats on campus. All of these incidents have left people wondering what could be done to stop this from happening again.

I don’t think we can totally prevent school shootings, but I do think there are steps we can take to ensure they are less likely to occur.

At home

I believe violent video games are a factor in the increasing number of school shootings. I worry about the 12-year-old child, sitting in his or her bedroom for hours on end, playing video games that involve shooting a gun and killing characters in order to win the game.

I worry that for some children, the violence they see on the screen becomes the norm and using a weapon to kill someone is seen as a way to solve their problems. There needs to be a greater public awareness effort, paid for by the video game companies, to educate parents on the possible dangers associated with violent video games. The same type of public awareness effort has been successful in this country in decreasing the amount of young people who smoke cigarettes.

In the community

We need the necessary resources to help people experiencing a mental health crisis. More funds need to be invested at the local level to ensure robust mental health programs that are accessible to all.  Early intervention is vital, especially for young people. We need to give educators the necessary training and tools that will enable them to recognize when a student is in the midst of a mental health crisis and allow them to make appropriate referrals for services.

At school

Technology and bullet proof glass alone won’t make schools safe. While schools can do everything right and still experience a tragic shooting, schools can take steps to create a culture of safety. Students, faculty, staff, parents, and first responders need to be involved in and understand the importance of school safety efforts.  Regular safety training should become the norm. This should include scheduled and unscheduled lockdown and evacuation drills so that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. Seconds count during a school shooting, therefore these procedures need to be carried out without delay. 

Each school should establish a student awareness team that focuses on prevention and early intervention.  This multi-disciplinary team of faculty, staff, and administrators is charged with examining incidents of violence or potential incidents of violence and making recommendations to the chief school administrator.  Analyses of past school shooting incidents have determined that “red flags” were either missed or not dealt with properly. Schools need to establish a reporting policy so that information could be disseminated to the team. Student awareness teams can recommend that a situation be monitored, suggest a meeting with parents and/or the student, provide services or make a referral for services, or report the situation to police. They play an important role in preventing violence in the school setting.

Developing relationships with law enforcement

Too often police and emergency responders first time at a school or college campus is when there is an imminent threat. This needs to change. As I stated earlier, seconds count when there is an active shooter situation. School campuses could be quite large. First responders need to know exactly where to respond to and how to get to the crisis point in the most efficient manner possible.  Otherwise, precious time is wasted and lives could be lost.

First responders should be invited into the school so they become familiar with the campus and develop relationships with students, school administrators, faculty, and staff. This could be accomplished by inviting officers to eat with students at lunch time, teach classes, or give presentations. At the university level, police officers should be invited on campus to take part in charity events, give safety presentations, or to eat and interact with students in the cafeteria. These are easy ways schools could develop relationships with law enforcement and open up important channels of communications. Communication is an integral part of preventing violent incidents such as school shootings.

School safety is something we once took for granted, but not anymore. Preventative efforts are the key to keeping our children safe at school. There are easy steps that schools could take so that, hopefully, these tragedies become less prevalent in our time. 

David Jannetty is the Academic Program Manager for the John P. Burke School of Public Service Master of Public Administration at Post University, and a retired assistant deputy police chief with the Waterbury, CT Police Department. Jannetty has more than 20 years of experience in law enforcement, public safety and emergency management.