Columbine 10 Years Later: The State of School Safety Today

CS survey shows that K-12 and university campus security programs have made huge strides since this terrible tragedy. Despite this, matters like bully prevention, technology deployment, staffing levels and funding require greater attention.

Believe it or not, a decade has passed since April 20, 1999, when two Columbine High School students shot and killed 12 of their classmates and a teacher, and injured 23 others before committing suicide themselves. The tragedy was the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history and profoundly affected the way schools, law enforcement and communities deal with K-12 campus safety and security issues.

But 10 years later, many wonder if schools are any safer. To determine the current condition of security at today’s educational institutions, Campus Safety conducted its exclusive Columbine 10-Year Anniversary Survey, where hundreds of participants provided their confidential responses on everything from emergency planning to bully prevention. According to the study, as well as several of the campus safety professionals and security experts interviewed for this article, most U.S. K-12 and college campuses have made significant safety and security improvements in the past decade.

Schools Realize It Can Happen Here
Prior to Columbine, security was an afterthought for many campus communities. When this mass shooting occurred, the public and most campus stakeholders were shocked by the fact that it was planned, it was carried out by students, and it was carried out by more than one individual.

The majority of CS survey respondents indicated that the Columbine tragedy prompted much greater security awareness among school officials. For the most part, the “It can’t happen here” mindset is now gone. “Prior to Columbine, they were treating their campuses like they were in the center of Mayberry,” says Paul Timm, president of Chicago-based RETA Security. “Almost no school we were working with at the time had a line item in their budget for security.”

Nine out of 10 K-12 and university respondents (90 percent) state that overall, their campus/district is safer now than when the Columbine tragedy occurred. Nearly three out of four respondents say their campus is safe, if not extremely safe. On a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being extremely safe and 1 being not safe at all, 73 percent of respondents rate their campus or district as a 7 or higher (70 percent K-12 and 78 percent higher education). Four percent rate their campuses as a 3 or less.

Despite all of this progress, there are some campus safety and security programs that have regressed. Nearly one out of four respondents (23 percent) who answered “What, if any, useful programs or equipment have been cut in the past 10 years that you believe should be reinstated?” indicate security/SRO/police officer presence has been reduced or completely eliminated. This response is particularly troubling considering that in the CS Salary Survey, appropriate staffing levels was marked by 61 percent of K-12 respondents and 52 percent of university respondents as a top five concern.

Other cutbacks mentioned by Columbine survey respondents include training; funding; counselors; social workers; home visits; campus walk-home programs; parking fines (which, when properly administered, generate funding); and security checks.

To view additional Web-exclusive statistics from this survey, click here.

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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