Schools do not need more resource officers, armed guards or for that matter armed teachers. Schools need to become adept at gathering information, sharing intelligence and, most importantly, making sense of what they learn.
In Uvalde, Texas we’ve learned far too well that good guys—many good guys—with guns can’t always stop a bad guy with a gun. In Florida, Nikolas Cruz is on trial for his life after killing 17 people at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. The school’s resource officer is also criminally charged for failing to enter the school and confront Cruz.
Nearly every school in America has prepared for a shooting. The Washington Post reported that more than 96 percent of public schools hold active-shooter drills.
Active shooter training, although needed, is a reaction to a shooting not an effort to prevent one.
“A pricey, multilayered security plan can be undone by something as small as an open door and a school police force can fail to prevent a worst-case scenario,” according to the Post.
The idea that more police officers, more metal detectors, more drills and more guns will stop school massacres—has stretched the bounds of credulity. That hasn’t impeded the rush to bring even more guns into schools.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, nearly 60 percent of states allow individuals other than police or security officials to carry guns on school grounds.
The sheriff in Madison County, North Carolina announced last week that AR-15 semi-automatic weapons would be placed in each of the county’s schools for the purpose of helping to prevent shootings.
In Florida, according to The New York Times, more than 1,300 school staff members serve as armed guards in 45 school districts, out of 74 in the state. The program was created after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre.
In Texas at least 402 school districts participate in a program that allows designated people, including school staff members, to be armed, according to the Times. This is the same state in which more than 400 armed police officers from the Uvalde Police Department, Uvalde School Police, Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office, among others, failed to enter the building for 78 minutes with an active shooter inside.
In Ohio, employees have for years been allowed to carry guns on school grounds with the consent of the local school board, if they completed the same 700 hours of police officer training required of law enforcement officials or security officers who carry firearms on campus.
After Uvalde, according to the Times, the legislature, with the acquiescence of Gov. Mike DeWine, enacted a new law that provides for a maximum of 24 hours of training before teachers can carry guns at school.
In Pennsylvania, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor, is proposing legislation to allow school employees to be armed on school property if they have a concealed carry permit and complete a firearm training course.
School attacks are often the result of meticulous planning. With planning comes the potential for leaving clues. Jeff Kaas, author of “Columbine: A True Crime Story,” wrote in the Post that 81 percent of school shooters tell someone about their plans.
In addition, most attackers engaged in some behavior prior to the attack that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.
An attack involving time-consuming preparation, and a planner who is talking about his lethal intentions, lends itself to being detected and prevented, if those close to the planner—teachers, administrators and staff—know what to look for.
Training and education are keys to prevention. Suspicious conduct, indirect threats, even alarming expressions in school assignments need to be documented. Information must be shared so that a coherent snapshot can be created of a potentially volatile situation.
School districts need to collect, document and share intelligence. To that end, schools should establish fusion coordinators, “Intel Officers,” who can synthesize documented activity occurring in school, outside of school and on social media networks. Teachers, administrators and staff should have regular roundtable discussions about unusual behavior, threats, bullying and social isolation of students.
Here is an example of how important information can fall through the cracks without a designated “Intel Officer.” John Smith is in 12th grade. His little sister tells the school nurse that her brother has a journal where he draws weird pictures of guns. The nurse passes the information along to the school counselor.
A classmate of John tells a teacher John said he has thousands of rounds of ammunition for target practice. The teacher mentions it to the assistant principal.
Another classmate tells his basketball coach that he overheard John tell someone that January 10 is going be a big day at the high school. John’s social media posts include photographs of him in camouflage, military garb, body armor and what looks like a semiautomatic weapon.
The teacher, school counselor, coach and assistant principal never get together to share their information. No one is monitoring social media posts.
If John’s school had an intelligence officer designated to receive all reports of unusual or alarming information, the intel officer would have been able to connect the dots and make sense of the multiple bits of information. The intel officer does a follow-up internet search and an intervention is made, possibly averting a tragedy.
The accumulation of intelligence can and must be done without violating a student’s civil rights, and in compliance with Family Educational Rights Privacy Act and other state and federal regulations.
Would a school district be better served with another armed resource officer or an intelligence office armed with a laptop, cell phone, email and some intelligence software serving as a central point of contact synthesizing information from teachers, staff, students and outside public sources?
Intelligence has been cultivated and used effectively in this country’s anti-terrorism efforts. An intelligence model would not only help prevent a violent rampage, but also assist school districts more effectively reach out to students who need support, counseling or more specific interventions.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly and George. P.C., the former district attorney of Lawrence County, Pa. and a frequent contributor to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, which first published this essay. Readers may follow him on twitter @MatthewTMangino, or email him at [email protected].