Schools should resist calls to end active shooter training

Schools should resist calls to end active shooter training


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School Resource Officers (SRO) play a key role in the prevention and mitigation of school shootings.

They are intimately familiar with the school’s layout, points of entry, areas of weakness, communications system, emergency preparedness protocols, and the content and implementation of the school’s armed assailant protocols. They have direct links to the local police but also serve on school or district crisis response teams, school safety committees, and more. They should continue to hold an important role in primary and secondary schools across the country.

However, there are several critical reasons why we must not solely rely on the response of law enforcement when addressing mass school shootings.

First, community, societal, and political support for SROs ebbs and flows. In the last few years, there have been pleas to cut funding and remove them entirely from schools and districts. Racism, bias, and the school-to-prison pipeline are some of the reasons why we, as a society, have been asked to rethink and/or retrain SROs. Because of their delicate and uncertain role in our political spheres and society, we cannot exclusively rely on these individuals to protect our children and educators.

Second, under optimal circumstances, it takes both SROs and external law enforcement time to act. While SROs often are already physically at the school or campus, it still takes minutes to be alerted, identify where the threat is coming from, and engage with an assailant.

Third, because SROs and external police officers are tasked with making decisions that carry life-or-death consequences in a short amount of time, there is the possibility for human error, misinformation, costly delays, and/or protocols that do not quite fit the situation at hand. If there is a breakdown in police response, there needs to be a contingency plan.

In those initial minutes, when SROs and law enforcement are not in close proximity to the assailant, up to speed on the facts, and able to respond, mass casualties do occur. Therefore, it is important that potential victims are equipped with the knowledge and skills about what to do to increase their survivability. These potential victims — students, teachers, and staff — need to know what to do. They need the knowledge to act as their own first responder.

Because of this, the calls to rid schools of active shooter training are misguided. With inevitable delays in law enforcement responses, students, teachers, and staff need to know what to do to survive.

Some protocols have one option, two options, or three options available to potential victims to increase survivability. Single-option response, also known as traditional lockdown, involves locking a door, turning off the lights, and hiding in a corner. Dual-option responses (e.g., Standard Response Protocol) include locking down and evacuating when able. Multi-option responses have three possibilities to survive: barricading while locking down, evacuating, and actively resisting when — and only when — confronted with the assailant. These programs include Run. Hide. Fight, ALICE, and Avoid/Deny/Defend.

The nuance in these programs is slight as all three provide mental tools that allow individuals to break through the freeze and respond. Regardless of the program used, each protocol understands there will be a delay before law enforcement reaches students, teachers, and staff. Thus, this training is important to help people survive in those initial few minutes.

SROs and law enforcement are vital in keeping students and educators safe in this era of mass school shootings. However, solely relying on them will put people in danger. As such, we must keep active shooter training in schools to give students, teachers, and staff every option to survive.

Brooke Miller Gialopsos is an assistant professor of criminal justice, criminology, and forensics at Seattle University. Cheryl Lero Jonson is an associate professor of criminal justice at Xavier University in Ohio.