Law Enforcement’s Role in Effective Policies to Defend Schools Against Violent Attacks
By Ron Dahart, Public Administration Program Graduate, American Military University
The occurrence of violent school attacks is on the rise. However, the resources needed to adequately protect schools against violence remains unclear and often unfunded. Some schools have turned to increasing the presence of armed school resource officers (SROs) while others consider arming faculty with weapons.
While local law enforcement is uniquely organized and capable of providing the necessary resources to deter violent attacks in schools and respond to violence when it occurs, arguments for faculty arming have validity when compared to alternatives.
Schools present a vulnerable target to armed violence, making up nearly a quarter of active shooter incidents. Between 2000 and 2013, 39 incidents—nearly a quarter (24.4%) of the 160 active shooter events—occurred in a school setting. 
Although evidence highlights that the nation reacts to school attacks by introducing legislation that permits arming faculty, very few states have followed through with actually putting weapons in the hands of teachers.
In the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, states reacted by introducing legislation to authorize either faculty members to carry weapons, or allow adults with valid permits to carry weapons on school grounds. However, this pending legislation fails to include a responsible approach of arming faculty members that ensures safety and accountability.
Arming faculty is an emotional issue that seeks to find a balance regarding Second Amendment rights, gun control advocacy, and the need to protect our school children and faculty from active shooters.
Simply allowing a faculty member to carry a weapon upon successful completion of a local law enforcement training program fails to consider adequate screening, training, and performance standards that demonstrate a responsible approach to school defense. Little evidence exists of a comprehensive approach to establish responsible and safe employment of an armed faculty who are capable of an overall school defense strategy.
The Role of SROs
The availability of armed SROs inadequately addresses the immediate response to active shooters within a school setting. Research has found no evidence to conclude that SRO programs are effective in reducing school violence. Moreover, much less data exists regarding the impact of SROs in defending and deterring against violent attackers. Despite a lack of empirical evidence to suggest the efficacy of SROs to deter or defend against armed attacks, the public’s emotional response after such attacks is to arm security.
In 2010, nearly 43 percent of all schools in the United States had support of at least one security guard, security personnel, SRO, or sworn law enforcement officer at least once per week. In the same year, 28 percent of those routinely carried a weapon. High schools saw a higher percentage of security (76%) than middle schools (66%) and primary schools (30%). Similarly high schools saw a higher percentage of armed security (63%) than middle schools (51%) and primary schools (12%).
SROs are primarily assigned to larger schools and schools with relatively older students. High schools have a higher percentage of SROs than middle schools and primary schools.
Research suggests that SROs perform a variety of roles in schools. Primary roles of SROs include school-related law enforcement, investigations associated with thefts and school violations, counselor, and teacher.
Schools and law enforcement should collaboratively assess the expected roles and responsibilities of SROs to help identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to adequately protect and secure against armed attackers in school environments. In addition, school districts must consider whether they are at risk of having inadequate armed security, which may provide a false sense of security.
Resource constraints may exist that preclude placing an armed SRO in each school. Schools’ use of available resources requires an assessment of whether they can overcome resource constraints or make a determination that they will need to pursue a practice of arming faculty members.
The Need for a Faculty-Arming Policy
States and local jurisdictions should consider objectives for incorporating a layered security approach to preparedness and response to armed attackers on school grounds. If arming faculty is deemed necessary, the school must establish a policy that incorporates standards and best practices.
A faculty-arming policy implements standardized practices, instills confidence, and demonstrates accountability and responsibility for ensuring safety and security. A faculty arming program should, at a minimum, include:
- Screening procedures and selection standards for armed faculty candidates
- Require the development of a registration standard for armed faculty members with local law enforcement and school administration
- School boards and local law enforcement implement and oversee a continual process of planning and preparedness to assess risks of an armed faculty response as a component of an overall school defense strategy
- Assess the knowledge, skills, and abilities of armed faculty and design training and readiness standards to measure performance
- Incorporate a collaborative approach to joint training and safety discussions to ensure armed faculty members are integrated with local law enforcement and emergency services
There is very little evidence to demonstrate that schools are considering the measures necessary to standardize—within their own states and school districts—procedures for arming faculty members. Current standards for faculty arming exist neither in literature nor in practice. Such standards are necessary to adequately address what an armed faculty member’s role and responsibilities are, how faculty demonstrates that they are qualified to perform these roles, and what the armed faculty member is not permitted to do.
States have the responsibility to ensure that procedures are implemented to arm teachers without setting them up for failure or needless injury or death. States should leverage partnerships with law enforcement agencies to increase knowledge and establish best practices to guide armed faculty implementation.
Safety Considerations and Alternatives
There are significant considerations that must be addressed to ensure the safety of armed and unarmed faculty, school administrators, and students.
Currently, training standards require armed faculty members to participate in law enforcement training. This practice is inappropriate; faculty members are not law enforcement officers. While certain requirements of law enforcement training are applicable to armed faculty trainees and should be part of training, the tactics and techniques of an armed faculty member should be guided by standards specific to the limitations placed on an armed faculty member to distinguish them from law enforcement.
Schools may be neglecting more obvious risks that can be mitigated through inspection of existing security measures. Schools should be required to first conduct physical security and risk assessments and report their findings to school district leadership. They also must consult with local law enforcement prior to consideration of an armed faculty practice. An assessment-decision process should be established in school districts that intend to arm faculty prior to taking action.
Best practice guidelines exist to guide schools’ physical security measures that may enable adequate security and safety without an armed faculty presence. The National School Shield (NSS) Task Force Report includes recommendations that should receive serious consideration by schools to assess their defensive and deterrence postures. Schools should consider risks by first assessing less aggressive security measures before considering armed security or faculty.
Simply arming a faculty member does not constitute a capable resource to defend against armed attackers. These armed faculty members will not create an environment of safety and security. A policy should be implemented at the state level that establishes the rigor of screening and qualifying not only the faculty member. Such a policy should also establish a standard practice of implementing armed faculty.
The Role of Law Enforcement and a Faculty Arming Policy
Implementation of a faculty arming policy requires actions far beyond what is currently being practiced. Wholesale approval of arming teachers as long as they are volunteers is not a responsible method of screening and selecting armed faculty candidates. Preparedness and planning processes do not currently follow emergency operations and physical security planning best practices.
Current programs lack both policy and implementation guidance. Local and state law enforcement, in collaboration with their respective school district leadership, should be the focal point of developing a school defense strategy especially if it involves armed faculty.
The armed faculty policy should first consider best practices already established for school physical security standards. Defensive physical security measures can warn school administration of active shooters on school grounds. Preventing active shooter access and alerting local law enforcement before an active shooter gains access to a school can mitigate the need for an armed security presence.
Early warning enables the school to react and enact lockdown procedures. In the crucial five to six minutes after an active shooter gains access, schools can make it difficult for shooters to locate targets.
In order to consider an armed faculty policy and successfully implement one, the following armed faculty precondition factors should to be considered and conducted in consult with local law enforcement:
- Require that an assessment of risks incorporating the best practice and recommendations found in the National School Shield Task Force. The attributes of adequate physical security, defense and deterrence should be given high priority when assessing and implementing school security measures.
- School emergency operations plans should be practiced and integrated with local law enforcement, emergency first responders, the community, mental health professionals, and counselors, parents, and students. FEMA has published comprehensive standards and recommendations pertaining to writing and implementing emergency operations procedures as well as conducting scaled approaches to training. These should be implemented, customized, and adhered to.
- Prior to implementing an armed faculty member, school districts should first consider the availability of trained SROs. SROs receive the requisite training, have the security and defense mindset, and are focused to respond to and neutralize armed attackers.
After consideration of these precondition factors, school districts should consult with local law enforcement to seek assistance in evaluating available resources prior to establishing a need for an overarching policy that governs the responsible and safe implementation of an armed faculty member.
Armed Faculty Policy Objectives
A faculty arming policy establishes procedures to ensure safe integration of armed faculty members. Local law enforcement is a key stakeholder within each of the policy objectives that ensure accountability and adherence.
Several standards should be considered in any faculty arming policy.
Screening and selection of faculty. Screening and selection of armed faculty is based on several factors intended to select candidates with the willingness and aptitude to carry out the responsibilities associated with being an armed presence in schools. The objective is to ensure that the candidate understands the responsibilities and expectations of an armed status.
Schools should seek volunteers, ideally individuals with prior weapons handling experience such as prior military or law enforcement. Candidates must understand that if selected, they must be willing to complete a standard training curriculum, complete a psychological evaluation, and comply with the process to obtain and maintain appropriate state and federal conceal carry weapons (CCW) permits and certifications.
Schools must ensure the candidate is screened and approved by the school administrative leadership. Once approved for selection, the nominating school district should notify the local law enforcement agency of their intent to arm a faculty member. The intent of notification to law enforcement is to advise and register the armed faculty member into an administrative, law enforcement tracking system or database.
In the event of active shooter situations in schools with armed faculty, law enforcement should have knowledge of who is authorized to carry weapons in school.
A process of registering armed faculty information informs the school, school district, county or municipal board of supervisors, local law enforcement agencies, and the state department of education. The selection and screening process also instills responsibility and accountability for due diligence in selection and assignment of armed faculty duties.
Documentation and registration records. The objective of documenting and registering candidates is to maintain an active register of armed faculty members within the state’s authority. Candidates should complete an armed faculty registration application intended to document personal contact information to include, but not limited to address, phone, emergency contact, weapons experience, proof of CCW permit or endorsements, vehicle make/model and license number, and driver’s license number. Registration information will be maintained by local law enforcement and copies distributed to the applicant’s human resource department, school district, and state department of education.
Training requirements. Training requirements and standards identify the minimum competencies associated with the initial training of an armed faculty member. Each state will require an analysis and determination of applicable training standards customized for their particular settings.
Training requirements acknowledge compliance and instill safety and confidence. Local law enforcement should be incorporated in the development and the assessment of armed faculty training standards. Further, armed faculty training should be conducted in concert with local law enforcement entities to ensure collaboration and evaluation of respective roles and responsibilities.
Training should incorporate best practices and be a continual process of evaluation and learning. At a minimum, training programs should achieve training that focuses on the knowledge, skills, and abilities maintained by a faculty member.
Faculty arming training, led by law enforcement, should include:
- Roles and responsibilities of the armed faculty member
- Marksmanship training in conjunction with local law enforcement
- Armed faculty tactics and techniques
- Weapons retention and empty-hand skills
- Understanding pre-incident indicators
- Knowledge of physical security best practices
- Expertise in active shooter lock-down procedures
- Emergency medicine and first aid in conjunction with emergency medical services and the American Red Cross
- Knowledge of emergency operations plans and law enforcement roles and responsibilities of incident management
Preparedness and planning. Responsible faculty arming programs must conduct planning that incorporates a capability into the school’s emergency operations plan. A faculty arming practice should be considered just one tool of many in a layered approach to school defense.
A faculty arming policy alone is not an adequate approach. Planning should include routine physical security assessments to determine the adequacy of security and early warning systems.
A layered approach considers school grounds physical security measures such as:
- Perimeter fencing and school grounds entry and exit points
- Building access control procedures
- Planning and procedures for visitor screening, cameras and security monitors, lighting, door locks and locking procedures, alarm and warning procedures
Planning establishes the mindset of layered defense and the employment of armed faculty capabilities as a measure of last resort when all other physical security measures within the layered defense approach have been compromised.
The preparedness objectives involve a rigorous, yet realistic building-block approach to conducting preparedness events integrating armed faculty capabilities into workshops and table-top exercises that are led by law enforcement and local emergency planners. Law enforcement is in a unique position to include armed faculty members, as incident response stakeholders, into their preparedness activities.
Collaboration and integration of armed faculty. Local law enforcement should be considered the primary resource for armed faculty capabilities. Armed faculty capabilities rely on local law enforcement for support in most every aspect of the school’s armed capability. A responsible and safe arming program requires oversight and assistance from professions who routinely oversee arming and security practices.
Local law enforcement integration with armed school capabilities facilitates interaction with other responder stakeholders. Involvement of armed faculty members in a regular program of integration engagements such as panel discussions, assist visits, and training helps to facilitate information sharing, collaboration, and trust.
All responder stakeholders must be engaged in order that communication channels remain open between schools and stakeholders. Collaboration serves to increase confidence in the efficacy of an armed faculty practice.
Responder professionals, parents and the community, local and state leadership, and the media are likely all interested in the credibility and reliability of teachers with weapons. Routine collaboration instills an element of transparency intended to mitigate skepticism of a faculty arming practice and may assist in acting as a deterrent to armed attacks.
Armed faculty capabilities currently do not adequately implement best practices to ensure a responsible, safe, and effective program as part of a school defense program. Local and state law enforcement should be leveraged and relied upon as the primary resource for school districts considering implementing a responsible armed faculty practice and policy.
About the Author: Ron Dahart is a retired Marine Corps officer who specialized in evaluating, developing, and conducting standards-based training across many disciplines and types of organizations. He served in many positions that organized and prepared Marines and Sailors for combat and life-saving missions in support of civilian authorities. He holds a BS in Criminal Justice from Appalachian State University and his Masters in Public Administration from American Military University. He currently resides in Virginia with his family and serves in the private sector.