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Will “Re-imagined” Alternatives to Security and Police Personnel be Safe for Students and Staff as well as Defensible during Litigation Against School Officials?

November 30th, 2020 by Guest Communications

Written by: Michael Dorn, Safe Havens International


Recent calls for “re-imagined” public safety approaches are designed to eliminate or replace police and security personnel in the K12 setting.

Regardless of how well-intentioned these approaches may be, many of them are largely, if not completely, experimental and theoretical. In fact, we have seen no data to support the safety or effectiveness of these approaches – let alone data that is likely to be found reliable enough to be accepted in most courts.


While it is easy to spout data created through poor methodology and even unethical distortion of reliable data when addressing a school board, conducting media interviews, speaking at a conference, or posting on social media, much of the school safety data we hear people repeatedly regurgitate in these forums would not be allowed into evidence in a civil action because it is simply not accurate.


The suggestions that school mental health personnel can safely assume many duties presently carried out by armed law enforcement officers reminds me of an attempted active shooter event at a Bibb County Georgia High School a few years back. For some inexplicable reason a staff member requested by radio that a school counselor be sent to deal with a student armed with a handgun. The counselor wisely replied that the school had two police officers who were far more capable of addressing the situation. When contacted by the first of the two officers, the student had already told a group of students that he was about to shoot them and was trying to clear a malfunction that prevented him from opening fire on them with his semi-automatic pistol. The student finally dropped his pistol after staring at the business end of a Glock .40 caliber service pistol being brandished by a school district police officer. In addition to the handgun, school police recovered more than 100 rounds of ammunition from the student who admitted that he had planned to kill a large number of students that day.


The approaches being suggested, and in at least a few cases being implemented, could easily result in the types of deaths we have seen time and time again when unarmed school officials have attempted to search students for guns, break up fights involving gang members, and approach suspicious people without assistance from an armed officer. These are not hypothetical cases I mention but actual cases where one, two and in at least one case in Jacksboro, Tennessee, even three school officials have been shot by a student while trying to address these types of situations for which they were neither equipped nor prepared.


In a school district which has removed all armed personnel and replaced them with “re-imagined” and unarmed personnel, it is more likely than not that a number of victims would have been shot. In a school district that has had substantial problems with students and or non-students carrying firearms to school, the reliance on a theoretical approach will not likely carry water in litigation. For districts that have already experienced multiple shootings, an inability to meet the standard of care will very likely pose major problems unless litigation occurs in a state with extremely strong qualified governmental immunity – and plaintiffs are unable to demonstrate the need for the case to be heard in a federal court. In addition to the lack of evidence that these theoretical approaches are safe and effective for staff and students at schools where they are implemented, there are strong arguments to be made that viable options to address concerns relating to the use of force and excessive utilization of the option to arrest students by police assigned to schools already exist. Districts that adopt alternative approaches to replace police and security personnel in schools will very likely be challenged to provide evidence that the options which have demonstrated success have been properly attempted and that these efforts have failed – with objective rather than subjective evidence.


This piece appeared on the Safe Havens International newsletter and is shared with consent:


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