Common Misconceptions About Armed Officers at Schools

Placing an armed police officer has the potential to deter or transfer risk, but policing a school does not necessarily correlate with protecting a school.

Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook, school safety is getting unprecedented attention. One of the solutions promoted is placing armed police officers at every school. The assertion and reasoning made were that only a good man with a gun can stop a bad man with a gun. But, does the same rationale apply to campuses in the private multi campus system that traditionally do not have armed security, and should schools assume the linear relationship between placing an armed police officer and the prevention of the next mass campus shooting?

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There is little doubt that placing an armed police officer certainly has the potential to deter or transfer risk. Based on the motivation of the assailant, an indiscriminant attacker would potentially seek a “softer target” then a campus protected by an armed officer. Under the same rationald, a targeted aggressor would possibly seek to harm his\her specific target at a different location than the school.

On the other hand, policing a school does not necessarily correlate with protecting a school. The difference manifests in the following aspects:

  • Most campuses in the private multi-campus environment are designed with multiple entrances, thus eliminating the ability of a lone officer to fully monitor all points of access. Even when a single entrance is used, in most cases the would be shooter could force his\her way through a window or a glass door.
  • Once the shooter enters the building, the probability of a lone officer “successfully” engaging a shooter significantly diminishes. In pragmatic terms, a single police officer would normally seek and engage an active shooter only when minimal backup has arrived.
  • The training level adn operational procedures of an armed officer significantly differ from the training and capabilities of an armed police officer.
  • A school police officer would normally position him\herself where a threat is most probable: for example, a road crossing during arrival and departures times. Protecting a school from a potential active shooter would require the officer to focus on a low probability occurrence, thus forcing him or her to neglect traditional responsibilities.
  • In countries such as Israel, where an armed guard is located in the entrance to every school, shopping mall and sporting event, terrorists have quickly learned how to overcome the single guard by using reconnaissance, altering their means of attack or using the advantage of numbers.
  • As for the purpose and logic of protection, it is highly debatable whether the presence of any armed officer can deter an assailant that intends to take his or her own life.

Armed police officers can improve school security by potentially deflecting mass shootings away from schools. An armed police officer can also possibly shorten the time of response to an active shooter. However, the good guy/bad guy shootout scenario that ends in the successful prevention of a school mass shooting is a flawed concept at best. Moreover, one should question the moral of transferring the next shooting from a school to a movie theater or a basketball game, and whether there should be a strategic solution rather than a limited and partial solution.  

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Oren Alter is an associate vice chancellor of crisis management for a multi-campus university, has more than 20 years of international experience in counter terrorism, physical security and corporate security for both government and private entities.

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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