Arming teachers is not the answer

A new idea seems to be gaining some traction in an effort to stop shootings on K-12 and college and university campuses: Arming teachers and professors.

Over the past 12 months or so, bills that would authorize teachers to carry concealed weapons in the classroom have been introduced in several states including Wisconsin, Michigan and Nevada. An Oregon high school teacher went to court to seek approval to carry her gun to school -- claiming she needed it to protect her from an abusive ex-spouse.

Several shootings on campuses in the first months of the new school year have gun lobbyists across the country calling for laws to allow teachers and staff members to arm themselves while at work.

More guns are the last thing we need on our campuses. This ill-advised idea of arming teachers could lead to more shootings with innocent people being caught in the crossfire. There would be more opportunities for guns to be stolen or taken by force; and armed teachers would be unlikely to provide much of a difference when a student gunman has the advantage of surprise.

Teachers need to concentrate primarily on their job of educating students. But they can play a role in helping to identify troubled students that need counseling or professional psychological intervention.

Teachers (and staff, too) should take every threat and student tip of potential violence seriously and fully check up on each claim, never assume that any talk of violence is just an idle threat.

And if there is an active shooter on campus, teachers and staff need to let law enforcement officials handle the situation. Police officers have been fully trained on how and when to use their weapons. They have other tactical advantages, as well as trained hostage negotiators available, if necessary.

Rather than arm teachers, take a look at some of the following recommendations:

• Make sure every school has a police officer (often called a student resource officer) assigned to the campus throughout each school day. In case of a shooting or other act of violence, a trained first responder can initiate action within seconds, not minutes.

• Conduct random searches of student lockers and cars, restrooms, stairwells and other places where a weapon may be hidden. The idea is to keep students off balance and show that a policy of zero-tolerance for weapons will be strictly enforced. Also, it is wise to keep the landscaping trimmed and at a minimum and have campus gardeners check outdoor places where a student might hide a weapon.

• Complete a risk assessment of the campus and as a result prepare an emergency plan to use in a crisis situation. By practicing the plan frequently, teachers and students will know how to react during an emergency and minimize chaos. This also helps keep parents informed.

• Consider the use of electronic security technology to help reduce the likelihood of death or injury from a campus gunman. Metal detectors can help spot guns, knives and other weapons at the school entry. Video surveillance cameras can create an added layer of security, giving school security officers a better idea of what is happening in and around the campus – before, during and after a crisis. Also, if the video is transmitted over a district network, it is possible to allow law enforcement personnel to view the cameras also from their emergency command center and for the responding officers to view this from their vehicles.

The main elements to an emergency plan are prevention, preparedness, response and recovery. Minimizing injury and property damage in an emergency situation is all about careful, meticulous planning – and a great deal of practice. Arming teachers and professors on campus is not going to save lives, but rather complicate the job of keeping people safe.

About the author: Patrick Fiel is the public safety advisor, education for ADT Security Services. He brings more than 30 years of security/law enforcement experience to the position. For six years was executive director of school security of Washington, D.C. Public School System, where he managed 163 school campuses. During his tenure with the United States Army Military Police Corps, he had operational and management oversight roles with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) at the Pentagon, at NATO Headquarters – Belgium and at West Point Military Academy.