Smart Solutions For School Safety
Pennsylvania Needs Smart Solutions for School Safety
By State Representative Greg Rothman

The safety of our children has been the utmost priority of our community leaders and school administrators across Pennsylvania. They have been leaders in addressing the concerns of law enforcement and first responders for schools and have worked tirelessly to come up with solutions to secure our students.

The most practical suggestions for how to best enhance security have come from local law enforcement, first responders, and school administrators -- suggestions that are not one-size-fits-all but could be personalized to each school district.

After convening meetings of all the State Police, Superintendents, Chiefs of Police and County Sheriff and listening to the experts in the 87th District, I have concluded that the first and most important reform our schools can make to protect our children are School Resource Officers.

Time and again, it has been proven that a good guy with a gun is the most efficient and successful defense in active shooter situations.

There have been several cases of SROs across America stopping school shootings from taking place or resulting in massive fatalities and injuries in their schools, during 2018 alone.

In March of this year, an armed SRO quickly stopped a school shooting at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Two students were shot by a male classmate inside the school, but the violence abruptly ended when the SRO fired his weapon at the gunman and neutralized him.

One month later, a shooting at Forest High School in Ocala, Florida, ceased with no deaths when an SRO quickly fired at the student gunman, leaving him injured.

Two school shootings in May were halted by heroic SROs in three different states. A shooting at Dixon High School in Dixon, Illinois, was prevented by an SRO who heard shots, pursued the gunman, and chased him outside of the school. The student was struck by the officer, but his classmates were left unharmed.

In Santa Fe, Texas, a student opened fire at Santa Fe High School and took the lives of 10 of his classmates. But before he could do any more harm, SROs exchanged gunfire with him and negotiated with him for almost a half-an-hour before the young man surrendered. Other law enforcement, including a state trooper, were able to help the SROs engage the student. In response to the tragedy, 227 school districts in Texas authorized a resource officer program and about two dozen states followed suit in considering similar programs.

These courageous stories prove that SROs are sound investments for schools in Pennsylvania. These anecdotes are also backed up by trained security professionals, who reported to State Senator Mike Regan’s School Safety Task Force that armed officers are the most efficient solution to active shooters on campuses.

Further solidifying the effectiveness of a “good guy with a gun” is never-before-seen data from the Centers for Disease Control that was published in June. In response to an independent study in 1993 by two American criminologists, which revealed 2.5 million Americans used a firearm in self-defense in that year alone, the CDC started doing their own data collection from 1996 through 1998.

This data was never published and was just recently discovered by the two criminologists, who also found that the CDC had halted their work, after concluding that between 1996 and 1998, 2.46 million U.S. adults used their firearms defensively annually. These numbers do not include the amount of times law enforcement or security personnel used their firearms for self-defense or to protect others.

Aside from physical confrontation that armed officers provide to thwart shooters on campuses at the time of violence, SROs have a heightened sense of situational awareness for certain students. They often know of the troubled students who are no longer attending their school and the personal conflicts a student is struggling with that could lead to a violent breaking point. SROs become aware of the home lives of students and student-to-student interactions just by observing behavior at school and communicating with other staff.

We have often heard in news reports after such tragedies that the teachers, students, law enforcement, health professionals, and school administrators often knew that a certain student was constantly disciplined or emotionally unstable prior to the incidents. The problem arises when these authorities are unable to communicate or work together to get the troubled student the help they need.

Since SROs are in constant contact with students, they are also able to help other administrators notice unsettling behavior among students. By doing so, they can keep lines of communication in tack among administrators and staff and quickly respond in crisis situations.

School administrators in Cumberland County have taken initiative to partner with local police departments to contract trained officers with our schools as SROs. The schools in our Commonwealth should know that they too are able to initiate such programs with the help of our state government, which can provide grants to offset the costs for the contracts.

Schools and law enforcement must also take initiative to keep firearms out of the hands of prohibitive people and those who have made violent threats. There should be mandatory reporting as well, on the part of mental health care providers, who need to notify parents and community leaders when they believe there is a threat from a disturbed individual. As we have seen with past tragedies, communication among the community is key in preventing catastrophe. While this network is important, though, school administrators must be able to use the information gathered to remove students that are deemed threats.

It is also disheartening to know that bullying in school has not become a thing of the past. Our children are growing up in a world where bullying is not just felt in the classroom, but also on social media at all hours of the day. Children and young adults must be encouraged by their peers and adults in their life to build up their self-confidence and to be kind to each other. Adults especially should stress in-person contact to build social skills and encourage strong friendships. It is critical that we avoid an over-abundance of less personal contact with each other to prevent isolation among our peers and children who are most vulnerable.

Simple acts of kindness can go a long way in creating a community that cares for everyone’s well-being. Anti-bullying school programs can start the conversation, but it is up to us and our children as individuals to look out for our peers and live up to those principles.

Focusing on creating physical barriers to possible security breaches, using armed SROs, along with increasing communication among our community leaders and individuals, is a sound start to address school safety. Each school has its own unique security challenges, and this approach allows them the freedom to keep students safe within its own means.

Our local school districts in Cumberland County have worked hard to make these changes happen in the 87th District. We look forward to seeing other schools in the Commonwealth do the same.