Police and Security Officers Keep Leaving Their Guns in School Bathrooms

There have been several recent incidents involving armed officers who forgot to take their guns with them after using the bathroom on a K-12 campus.

Police and Security Officers Keep Leaving Their Guns in School Bathrooms

Photo: pkanchana, Adobe Stock

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include additional research on guns being mishandled at schools.

Over the past four months, there have been at least four reports of an armed school security officer or law enforcement officer accidentally leaving their gun unattended in a school bathroom or other K-12 campus area.

Just last week in Indiana, a school protection officer who worked for the Vigo County School Corp. was fired for forgetting his firearm in a bathroom at Honey Creek Middle School. The gun was found by a student, who promptly notified school officials about the unattended firearm.

Earlier this month, a Bryan Independent ISD security officer at Johnson Elementary School in Texas left their gun and holster in a nurse’s bathroom on campus. The duty belt was discovered by a staff member and was not touched by a student. That officer was also terminated.

Two similar incidents happened in January and February at Fort Bend (Texas) ISD schools.

Fortunately, in all four of these cases, the guns were safely retrieved.

However, the same can’t be said for an incident that happened in December in Memphis, Tenn. In that case, a school resource officer left her gun in a bathroom at Kirby Middle School where a student found it and took it home. There haven’t been any reports indicating the missing firearm has been recovered.

Also in December, a gun was found in a restroom at Hidden Valley Middle School in Roanoke, Va., during a basketball game, reports WDBJ. The firearm was discovered by an adult and belonged to an off-duty Roanoke County Police officer who was attending the game and left his gun unattended after using the bathroom.

In Manorville, N.Y., an off-duty member of the Suffolk County Police Department left his gun in a bathroom at Eastport-South Manor Junior-Senior High School, reports PIX11. The firearm was discovered by a custodian, who immediately notified building security. The officer who left his gun was the parent of a student who attends the school.

All seven of these incidents happened in under four months. Going back further, from 2014 to 2020, there were 40 incidents where guns were left accessible to children, 20 times guns were discharged unintentionally, six times guns were mishandled during discipline, and 20 times guns were used in times of personal stress or conflict. All of these incidents happened at a school, according to the Giffords Law Center. According to the Giffords report, some of the incidents where a gun was left accessible to students included:

  • A school district employee’s firearm fell out of its holster onto a school bus seat. The firearm was later found by a student.
  •  A student found a gun and bullets inside an unattended purse on a school bus. Officers determined that the purse belonged to a school bus driver employed by the school district.
  • A gun was found in an unattended bag in the media center of a high school. The bag belonged to an employee of the school.
  •  A gun brought to a middle school school by a teacher was stolen by two students.
  • Automotive class students found a pistol in the trunk of their teacher’s car while servicing the vehicle as part of a class project.

Although I haven’t found more recent research on the number of guns being left unattended in school bathrooms or other areas on campus, anecdotally at least, our nation appears to be experiencing an increase. And these are the cases we know about. I’d be willing to wager there are many more  guns left in school bathrooms or other areas on campus by law enforcement, armed security, and armed K-12 campus staff members that never get reported.

This is a really dangerous trend. If it’s not properly addressed, it’s only a matter of time before someone gets seriously injured or killed when a student or untrained adult handles the weapon and hurts themselves or someone else. Even worse would be the wayward gun falling into the hands of a criminal.

That said, we all should have seen this coming. The increase in guns left in school bathrooms is the unintended consequence of K-12 school districts hiring – or at least allowing on campus – more police, armed security officers, and staff members who carry guns.

Yes, there has been a significant increase in active shooter events that happen at schools. But in attempting to address the active shooter threat — which is still very unlikely to happen on your specific campus – we have introduced a risk that is much more likely to become a reality: the firearm falling into the wrong hands and being used negligently or with criminal intent.

Do we still need police on campus? In many cases, yes. But does every school, especially elementary schools and middle schools, need armed security or armed staff members? Considering the massive risk, probably not.

That being said, many states and districts have hopped on the armed school security bandwagon, so K-12 school districts, law enforcement agencies, and contract security agencies must consider the following practices recommended by firearms training expert Dr. and Lt. John Weinstein. Although his recommendations are for police agencies and contract security companies, they can probably be modified and adopted by school school districts for their staff members who carry guns on campus.

Here are Weinstein’s recommendations for addressing this dangerous problem:

There are two types of issues here: strategic and tactical.

On the former, we must get our minds right. We must realize a sidearm is, next to our brain, the most potent life-saving weapon we carry and an integral part of our uniform. Leaving a sidearm in the restroom is akin to forgetting to put on clothes before coming to work. After all, one can hardly imagine leaving a cell phone in the bathroom!

Second, I suspect officers forget their sidearms because the resulting consequences are unknown, ambiguous, or non-existent. If the penalty for leaving a weapon in a bathroom is severe enough, officers will be less likely to behave irresponsibly. DC’s Capitol Police suspends such a violator for 30 days without pay, with termination being an option. In other words, this is an issue for command, not just the careless officer.

From a tactical perspective, the officer answering the urgent call of nature should never remove the weapon from its holster and place it on the back of the commode where, out of sight, out of mind, it is more likely to be forgotten. Instead, the officer has essentially two options.

  1. The duty belt, with the weapon in its holster, can be removed and hung on the hook on the inside of the stall. It is hard to imagine an officer not noticing such a large and heavy item when exiting a stall.
  2. Just the duty belt buckle, along with the pant belt buckle, can be opened and the duty belt can rest on the pants on the ground. I do not endorse this second option for two reasons: the floor is filthy and a weapon on the floor might be visible to and grabbed by a person in an adjacent stall.

This issue is potentially crucial and deserves to be addressed in roll call training and significant penalties announced and levied by senior commanders for violations.

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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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One response to “Police and Security Officers Keep Leaving Their Guns in School Bathrooms”

  1. Randy says:

    It is inexcusable but can definitely be prevented.

    Many security guards and SRO’s must utilize staff of community restrooms despite numerous administrators having restrooms within their own area or personal office. Additionally, these restrooms have many amenities such as personal hygiene storage areas and odorizing accoutrements but they almost never have an aseptic area for the security/school resource officers to place or hang their duty belt directly within arm’s reach or direct field of view.

    Install hooks and or tables or other to temporary store the duty belt when utilizing the restroom, after all one does not lay their cell phone on the unsanitary restroom floor do, they. I mean do you take off your coat or belt and lay on the urine covered floor while using hte restroom? The education facility must step up and provide better assistance, facilities to reduce the likelihood of such happening instead of simply pointing out failures.

    One would be surprised at the number of security officers and SRO’s that do not even have an office to conduct criminal investigations and or conduct full time surveillance. But you will find the school security camera desk tops, off line in sleep mode in the corner of the principal’s office while the security officer is pushed to the side of the reception’s office squinting at a desk top attempting to view the security cameras or even outside in their patrol car as the broom closet is not even available for them to use.

    Go to your child’s school and ask to see where the security officer resides to conduct surveillance of the campus or criminal investigations, you might be surprised at how little they have been offered as a partner within the educational system when administration is unwilling to work with them. There are definaltey other administrations, educators that do provide and partner well with security officer or SRO’s for the benifit of teh students. Lets look into why not just how.

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