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Phoenix Forward magazine

5 ways school violence has changed security

School violence

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, is just the latest incident to alter how administrators and law enforcers handle school violence.

“The school security industry changed radically starting back in 1999 with Columbine,” says Hector Garcia, a security consultant and online instructor in the University of Phoenix criminal justice program. “After each of these tragedies, there’s [more] awareness that brings about a huge need for new security assessments.”

Here are five ways educational security has evolved:


School-based policing

One of the first new school security trends to emerge in the 1990s — before Columbine — was increased police involvement at schools, including on-site officers and separate school policing departments, says Tommy Burns, a private security and policing consultant, and an instructor in the criminal justice program at the University’s Las Vegas Campus.

“When I was a police officer in Henderson, Nevada, we went from no school security [in the 1980s] to [private] security guards, and then to school police,” notes Burns, a former Henderson police chief. School police departments specialize in the crime and patrol issues specific to educational environments, he says, such as youth violence and bullying.


Educational security consultants

“After Columbine, a field of ‘experts’ appeared who claimed to understand how to improve school safety, but they weren’t always qualified,” Garcia notes. “Schools looking to hire these consultants should ask a lot of questions about their background,” including whether they have law enforcement training and experience in educational environments.

Burns says regulations on consultants vary. “In Nevada, school security consultants are licensed by the state,” he points out, adding, “They must have a minimum of 4,000 hours of professional security or law enforcement experience, a criminal justice degree or some combination of all three.” Many other states require that consultants hold a Certified Protection Professional credential.


Threat assessments

Increased violence has led more school districts to seek customized threat and security assessments, either from private consultants or local law enforcement, according to Burns.

“When writing threat vulnerability assessments,” he explains, consultants must consider a range of things, including school personnel levels, hours of operations, layout and the surrounding neighborhood. Schools then use the information to develop security procedures.


New policing strategies

School shootings like those at Columbine and Sandy Hook have also meant changes in routine policing procedures. “Prior to Columbine, standard procedure for active shooter situations was for police to secure the perimeter and then wait for SWAT to arrive,” Burns points out. “But Columbine changed all that.”

During that mass shooting outside Denver, police called for reinforcements before confronting active shooters and didn’t wait for SWAT officers. But after the Sandy Hook shootings, new policies requiring any available officer to intervene immediately — with or without reinforcements — are becoming standard, Garcia says.


Specialized teacher training.

Most local school districts now train all staff, including teachers, in security procedures, Burns says. “At Sandy Hook,” he notes, “the teachers were trained how to respond [to a school shooting] — greatly reducing loss of life, according to statements by the local police chief.”

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