Opinion

Opinion: Violence in schools is reportedly on the rise. Campus police must be part of the solution.

The movement to remove police on campus has proven to be a failure.

This article was originally published in The San Diego-Union Tribune

By Mark Powell

Powell is president of Parents For Quality Education, a former member of San Diego County Board of Education and a former reserve police officer with the San Diego Police Department. He lives in University City.

School districts and the school board members who govern them are ultimately responsible for student safety, and one of the best ways to keep students safe on campus is to address student mental health. San Diego County has had its share of school shootings. In 2001, then-15-year-old Charles “Andy” Williams killed two people and wounded 13 others during a shooting at Santana High School in Santee. That same year, then-18-year-old Jason Hoffman wounded five people in a shooting at Granite Hills High School in El Cajon. In 2010, then-41-year-old Brendan O’Rourke opened fire on the playground at Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad, wounding two second-grade girls. Sadly, there have been other shootings as well.

Powell is president of Parents For Quality Education, a former member of San Diego County Board of Education and a former reserve police officer with the San Diego Police Department. He lives in University City.

School districts and the school board members who govern them are ultimately responsible for student safety, and one of the best ways to keep students safe on campus is to address student mental health. San Diego County has had its share of school shootings. In 2001, then-15-year-old Charles “Andy” Williams killed two people and wounded 13 others during a shooting at Santana High School in Santee. That same year, then-18-year-old Jason Hoffman wounded five people in a shooting at Granite Hills High School in El Cajon. In 2010, then-41-year-old Brendan O’Rourke opened fire on the playground at Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad, wounding two second-grade girls. Sadly, there have been other shootings as well.

When parents drop their children off at school, they should feel confident that their kids are in a safe and secure environment. Yet after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, a majority of teenagers and parents told Pew Research Center they fear a shooting could happen at their school. Making schools safe requires a multi-pronged approach, including addressing student mental health, increased campus security and teacher training. The San Diego Unified School District assigns each middle school one counselor for every 481 students and each high school one counselor for every 459 students, but that’s not enough. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of one counselor for every 250 students. Schools must hire more counselors and psychologists so they can identify students with mental health issues to help prevent another tragedy.

Keeping our students safe also requires hiring enough campus security to cover San Diego County’s 780 schools and nearly 500,000 students. The movement to remove police on campus has proven to be a failure, and violence in schools is reportedly increasing. As a former reserve police officer with the San Diego Police Department, former vice principal at several local schools and a parent, I know that removing cops from campuses is the opposite of what is needed to improve school safety and community relations.

At the Robb Elementary School shooting, Texas officers waited more than an hour to confront school shooter as kids trapped inside the classroom with the gunman repeatedly called 911 for help. At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a school resource officer also did not enter the building.

But according to their training, in the event of an active shooting on campus, school police must engage the shooter quickly to save lives. If officers are not properly trained, they put their lives and the lives of students in danger. School districts should fund the training of police officers assigned to them so that these officers have the skills needed to engage an active shooter without hesitation.

When it comes to school safety, teacher training is also essential and must be ongoing. Deaths might have been prevented at Robb Elementary if an exterior door had locked properly. Keeping doors locked could prevent school shooters from entering classrooms, but many classrooms across San Diego County routinely keep doors wedged wide open. Changes need to be made to our school’s security procedures and schools need to have active shooter drills throughout the school year. Although training may not stop people from bringing guns to school, it may help prevent deaths.

Funding to improve safety on our school campuses must become a core function of local, state, and federal government, and locally elected school board members must do all that they can to secure that funding. Too many young lives have been lost due to school shootings, and we can longer afford to be reactive. Proactive school leadership is needed now more than ever to keep our children safe at school.

Photo Cred: Dario Lopez-Mills/AP