Recent problems in Chicago, where more than 40 public school students have been killed in the past year, should lead school administrators, law enforcement and politicians across the country to re-examine their own plans to keep kids safe at school and traveling between home and the campus each day.
For six years I served as head of security for the Washington, D.C. Public Schools, where we faced many of the same problems Chicago is dealing with now. I was part of a comprehensive team that made significant improvements in student safety. Based on that experience, here are some steps I recommend for the various stakeholders in Chicago and other U.S. cities:
• Schools should create a safe passage to and from school for each student. Police can help with extra patrols and business and neighborhood watch groups can stand on the sidewalk as kids pass. Gangs and bullies don’t generally operate when they know they are being watched.
• Have all schools undergo a risk assessment that will define security strengths and weaknesses on the campus and the surrounding community.
• Set up toll-free hotlines for students, teachers and parents to anonymously report potential safety and security problems.
• Parents and guardians of truant students should be given 24 hours to resolve the problem or have the police called for enforcement.
• The police should station at least one full-time school resource officer (SRO) at each elementary school. Middle and high school campuses may need as many as six SROs.
• Voters must demand that local, state and federal politicians make the hard budget decisions to fund student safety and security measures.
This is a problem that has been generations in the making. Solving it will not be an easy or quick process. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently labeled youth violence “an American problem.” I agree.