Demand rises for army school officers, despite Uvalde
Jhis call for more armed officers in schools across the country came quickly after 19 children and two teachers were fatally shot in Uvalde, Texas on May 24.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has encouraged schools to increase the presence of law enforcement officers on campus, and Uvalde School District Superintendent said he plans to do just that this fall. In Kentucky, hundreds of additional school resource officers (SRO) will need to be hired before August to account for a new state law that requires there to be an SRO on every K-12 campus in the state. And the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO), which trains school resource officers, is plead for “every school at every level” to have a trained school resource officer on campus whenever school is in session.
Mo Canady, executive director of NASRO, said responding to school shootings is “an essential part of the job” of school resource officers. “When it comes to visiting a school, there is nothing more important for the SRO to engage,” he says.
But the trend of putting more armed police on campuses in response to school shootings has come even though it’s not clear that the presence of an ORS makes a mass shooting on campus less likely. And the latest push comes despite the failure of armed officers to stop the shooter at Uvalde. The school police’s response became a national scandal.
A “lamentable failure” in Uvalde
Uvalde School Police Chief Pete Arredondo, third from left, stands during a press conference outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Thursday, 26 May 2022.
During testimony before a Texas state Senate committee on Tuesday, Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, called the police response to the Uvalde shooting an “abject failure.” School officers waited more than an hour to enter classrooms and confront the shooter – a move that was ‘antithetical to everything we’ve learned in the two decades since the Columbine massacre’ in 1999, McCraw said.
Best practice dictates that responders “stop the killing first” and intervene to confront the attacker as soon as possible. Officers must “take immediate action to isolate, distract or neutralize the threat, even if that means an officer acting alone”, according to active shooter training by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.
McCraw squarely blamed school district police chief Pete Arredondo, whom he identified as the on-scene commander during the shooting. McCraw said three minutes after the shooter entered the building, there were enough armed officers wearing body armor “to isolate, distract and incapacitate the subject.” But instead, officers waited an hour and 14 minutes to enter the classroom and kill the shooter.
“The only thing that kept a hallway of dedicated officers from entering rooms 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander, who decided to put the lives of the officers before the lives of the children,” McCraw said Tuesday. “The officers had weapons; the children had none. Officers had body armor; the children had none. The officers had training; the subject had none.
Eight Uvalde Police Department officers and three members of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Police Department, including Arredondo, entered the school building three minutes after the shooter, according to a schedule shared by McCraw on Tuesday.
McCraw blamed Arredondo for waiting for a radio, guns, shields, a SWAT team and “a key that was never needed” to arrive, alleging that the classroom door was unlocked from the start, but no one had checked.
Arredondo defended his answer and contradicted some of McCraw’s claims in a recent interview with the Texas Tribune. He said he did not consider himself the incident commander and had “not given any orders” telling officers not to enter the building. He told the Tribune that the classroom door was locked and could not be kicked in as he tried “dozens” of keys to unlock it. A lawyer for Arredondo did not immediately respond to TIME’s request for comment on Wednesday.
Canady says NASRO has trained officers in the Uvalde District in the past, but he doesn’t know if that included officers who responded to the shooting at Robb Elementary. He says it’s possible best practices weren’t followed by officers in the shooting, but he doesn’t yet have enough details to assess what happened at Uvalde.
More armed police and more school shootings
About 51% of schools had a sworn officer regularly carrying a firearm in the 2019-20 school year, up from 43% in the 2015-16 school year, according to National Center for Education Statistics data. And 65% of public schools had one or more campus security guards in the 2019-20 school year, up from about 42% of schools in 2005-06. The 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida led to more calls for armed officers and even armed teachers in schools.
Meanwhile, the number of shootings with casualties at K-12 schools has risen since the 2012-13 school year – when there were 22 shootings, including the deadly attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School. – and reached 93 shootings in 2020-21, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Canady argues that if ORS are carefully selected and well trained, they can be a valuable asset to schools. “You have to be prepared that if you hear gunfire in your school, or hear anything else, that the switch will instantly flip and you will be the best tactical officer your department could ever hope to offer,” says Canady. . “There’s no one out there who can be perfect in all of those roles. But we’re looking for the best we can get.
But aside from training, it’s not clear that school resource officers actually improve safety. A 2021 paper by researchers from Hamline University and Minnesota Metropolitan State University looked at 133 school shootings. The study concluded there was no association between the presence of an armed officer and deterrence of violence, noting that most school shooters are themselves students, raising questions about whether the increase school safety is an effective prevention tool.
READ MORE: Schools spend billions on security measures to stop mass shootings. It’s not clear that they work
Indeed, an SRO was on campus during the Parkland school shooting, where 17 people were killed, but failed to stop the shooter. Later in 2018, two police officers stationed at Santa Fe High School in Texas were praised for their bravery after taking on a school shooter and cornering him in four minutes. Yet eight students and two staff members were killed.
“We must face the truth – more militarized school environments do not address the root causes of mass violence,” Andrew Hairston, director of the Education Justice Project for Texas Appleseed, said in a statement after the shooting. ‘Uvalde.
Canady cites other examples of officers arresting school shooters, including a 2018 shooting in Great Mills High School in Maryland, in which the shooter committed suicide during a confrontation with a school resource officer after killing one student and injuring another. In another incident in 2018, a police officer in Dixon, Illinois, shot and injured a shooter who opened fire during a high school graduation rehearsal, then fled the building.
“A Herculean Task”
Not all schools focus on adding police officers. Following the 2020 murder of George Floyd, schools from Minneapolis to Portland, Oregon, pulled officers from campus, addressing concerns about over-policing, especially for black students.
Jeff Godown, who was the school’s police chief in Oakland, Calif., backed a school board vote, inspired by years of community activism, to eliminate his department — and his job — in June 2020.
Today, Godown still believes there is no need for armed officers patrolling the school hallways, dealing with day-to-day discipline issues. He understands that parents or teachers would feel more comfortable with an officer standing guard outside a school, but he fears this is not a realistic or affordable solution.
“Are you telling me that we need an armed policeman in every school – elementary and secondary – in the United States of America?” said Godown, who is now acting police chief at California State University, San Bernardino. “It would be a Herculean task to have so many officers assigned to these schools.”
He says it’s a mistake to put all the blame on ORS and the school’s “toughening up” efforts, without also addressing access to assault rifles used by gunmen in Uvalde and Parkland. “I see no need for this weapon in circulation for a civilian population,” he says, noting that the use of such weapons creates additional challenges for responders, who are likely only armed with one weapon. fist.
“Most of these people coming into the schools are heavily armed, like in this case, and sometimes the officers are underarmed from the word Go,” Godown says. “They’re going to be the first line of defense,” he says, of school resource officers. “But you can’t expect them to be the only line of defense.”
More Must-Have Stories from TIME