Are We Making Any Progress in School Security?
Although we are bombarded daily with news of gun violence, one school security study indicates our efforts are paying off.
Read the news on any particular day, and more often than not a school shooting will be the lead story. It seems like practically every week Campus Safety is posting an article about yet another tragedy involving guns and active shooters on campus.
It’s enough to make anyone in the school security community question what the heck we are doing. Indeed, I personally experienced a “dark night of the soul” right after the Nashville school shooting in which three children and three adults were murdered. I’ve been running Campus Safety for nearly two decades now, and it feels like no matter how much I write or how hard the campus security community tries, we aren’t making any progress.
But one report that received practically no attention has given me new hope.
Research conducted by the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) found that from 2001 to 2019, California schools saw a massive reduction in all types of victimizations, including physical threats with or without weapons, verbal and psychological abuse, and property offenses.
The study of about six million students found there were 70% fewer reports of someone carrying a gun onto school grounds and a 68% reduction in other weapons brought to school. Additionally, in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 56% fewer physical fights and a 59% reduction in reports of being threatened by a weapon on school grounds. Black and Latino students experienced larger declines compared to White students.
These findings, even though they are from before the pandemic, are huge and should offer some comfort to students and their parents that schools are much safer than ever before.
Yes, it’s true that mass shootings are happening at a record pace, but this UCLA study indicates that the efforts of the campus security community are making a positive impact and improving school security. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect if other studies like UCLA’s were conducted in other states, there would be similar findings.
I hope that if you are a school protection professional, you take this study to heart. We are making progress in campus security, and we need to celebrate our successes rather than just dwell on our failures.
Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. Will we make mistakes in the future? Of course. But remember this study the next time you doubt that what you are doing is making a difference.
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I think that’s a very arguable point. Culture change can have huge impacts on the area they measured but we have also seen waves classes where for 3 years as one group is in a school its near chaos and as they are replaced by upcoming students we get calm and better schools inside. We can count cameras, access control, electronic visitor management, fencing the works but what I am not seeing a change in is architectural design. We have new schools in our area that are almost all glass and no protection in the classrooms from anything. No place to shelter, cover etc. So it doesnt matter what we pay for all the goodies when it comes to an entry casualty will be through the roof in these designs. We have to start holding architects accountable for more than awards and recognition and start demanding safe designs.
I think it is incredibly important to separate “school shootings” from acts of targeted violence in schools, aka ‘active shooters’ in schools as they are most assuredly NOT the same thing. School shootings generally have increased if one uses the K-12 Shooting Database figures which, unlike most other databases, includes, in their own words: “gang shootings, domestic violence, shootings at sports games and afterhours school events, suicides, fights that escalate into shootings, and accidents.” Their criteria of a school shooting also includes: ” All shootings at schools includes when a gun is brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims, time, or day of the week.”
Conversely, their “active shooter” database is specific to incidents which: “are labeled as an “active shooter” when the shooter killed and/or wounded victims, either targeted or random, within the school campus during a continuous episode of violence.” In this case, the number of ‘active shooter’ or acts of targeted violence are relatively steady at around 3.67 per year, although, sadly, the number of victims seems to be increasing. Let’s work, as California has, on reducing the numbers to as low as we can but not lose hope.