Reacting with More Law Enforcement Is Not the Way to Secure Schools

A former Secret Service agent shares his thoughts on what he thinks will improve school and student safety.

Reacting with More Law Enforcement Is Not the Way to Secure Schools

Photo: Simone -

Public focus on school security continues to increase. A Fall 2023 study found parents and teachers are much more concerned about school safety now than they were five years ago. Public policy is shifting as well, with the Justice Department announcing increased funding nationwide for law enforcement measures, including school security, in November of 2023.

While any efforts to secure schools are likely better than none, I feel compelled to note that simply putting more law enforcement personnel on campuses has not proved effective. What is the alternative? A holistic, proactive approach designed to kindle relationships. My career in the U.S. Secret Service and my current work at a security consultancy have shown me that bringing the school community together — alongside security experts — with a common goal and a supportive culture is the best way to achieve school safety. To do that, I recommend a process of three parts:

  1. Relationship building
  2. Custom security assessment
  3. Ongoing preparation to ensure schools can execute their safety plans at a critical moment

Building Relationships in Schools

When enforcement is the focus, it rarely works. Having a security officer stationed in a school, unfamiliar to students and staff, waiting in isolation to react to a threat, does little except perhaps reduce response time in an emergency. But if that same officer spent their time creating strong bonds with those around them, they would unlock several important security benefits.

First, students who know and trust their school officer are more likely to come to them with concerns. This gives law enforcement more eyes and ears on potential threats, and therefore a greater chance of curtailing those.

Second, the officer may be a source of help, deterrence, and understanding for students who might otherwise, for lack of a caring figure in their lives, be driven down a path of violence.

And third, strong relationships allow us to foster engaged school communities with a culture of anti-violence. Whereas an officer who is cut off from students and staff can only affect the particular area they occupy at any moment, an officer working to achieve a positive culture can extend their influence down every hallway and into every classroom at once.

Individualized School Security Assessments

Dozens of factors coincide in each school to create a unique security profile. Therefore, security experts should not conduct site assessments as if they are following a recipe. Deep analysis and creative problem solving are crucial to discover the actions that will have the greatest impact in a given case.

Physical risks must be accounted for, but beyond that, what processes does a school have in place to meet safety threats? What training, if any, do staff receive? How often do administrators revisit their procedures? What are the characteristics of the school population? What school resources or even local resources might staff and students turn to in the name of safety?

There is no single solution to the challenge of securing schools, so we must ask insightful questions and customize site assessments to address what isn’t visible at first glance.

Ongoing Preparation

It’s easy to draw up a plan ensuring that your current resources will support it, but we live in an ever-changing world. Failing to make updates can cause uncertainty, delay, and error when the time arrives to implement the plan. The final part of an effective approach to school security is a commitment to regular updates and training.

Once a year, schools should review their emergency operations plans and check them against any changes that have occurred since the last inspection, talk to involved personnel, and ensure available resources match needs. This prevents a gap from opening between the plan and its implementation, which is one of the biggest problems my company sees schools facing today.

The bad news is that a degree of doubt is inevitable in this line of work. There are no guarantees of safety. That said, I am confident that as long as we remember to harness the power of human relationships and to be proactive rather than reactive, we can make schools much more secure.

The mission of keeping students and educators safe deserves solutions that go beyond mere enforcement. So, let’s provide them.

Jason Russell is the Founder and President of Secure Environment Consultants. As a former Secret Service agent, Jason started SEC in the wake of Sandy Hook to bring White House-level threat assessment and protection to schools and businesses.

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.

If you appreciated this article and want to receive more valuable industry content like this, click here to sign up for our FREE digital newsletters!

Leading in Turbulent Times: Effective Campus Public Safety Leadership for the 21st Century

This new webcast will discuss how campus public safety leaders can effectively incorporate Clery Act, Title IX, customer service, “helicopter” parents, emergency notification, town-gown relationships, brand management, Greek Life, student recruitment, faculty, and more into their roles and develop the necessary skills to successfully lead their departments. Register today to attend this free webcast!

6 responses to “Reacting with More Law Enforcement Is Not the Way to Secure Schools”

  1. Timothy A Hanna says:

    This article only addresses his opinion on taking a “holistic approach” rather than adding more school police officers or school resource officers to increase safety. Isn’t the best solution to try to institute both as opposed to one instead of the other. A trained, armed police officer in the school at all times provides a response in seconds not minutes to an active shooter, which could mean the difference in many student or staff lives being lost. This holistic approach sounds great until someone shows up with a weapon and the local police take minutes as opposed to seconds to respond. I believe this article should have been vetted better before accepting this author’s opinion.

  2. Sgt. Jeff Weiss, Ret. says:

    The concept of School Sec. Officers establishing relationships with everybody, understanding how they interact, and becoming the “go to” person when a problem begins to surface is not new. And in many instances it has worked, but not enough.
    The primary obstacle to this approach is that LEO’s are not equipped to serve that function. Neither by temperament, ability or training. The personality and attitude of the typical LEO is not the same as that of the typical social worker or psychologist. The LEO is selected in part by his ability to quickly asses and take appropriate action, and many times that action will include violence. The requirements of understanding, assessing in depth, searching out underlying causality for a person’s action are not necessarily present in the LEO. And to expect them to come into play at crisis points can cost the LEO his life. But they are exactly the skills necessary and present in the social scientist. There are exception, of course. But to expect the LEO, with LE training, skills, and predisposition focused on action, to transition into a person whose training, skills and predispositions are quiet, in depth, long term, cause analysis is a formula for disaster. The two skill sets are so different that they almost prevent the use of both. It is to bad, but I think that there is a very real possibility that they do.
    Points number 2 and 3 are certainly a good idea. But who will do them? They also require special skill sets and they are usually not included in either the school admin. officers or the school safety officer.

  3. George Joy says:

    NASRO defines an SRO as follows: “NASRO considers it a best practice to use a “triad concept” to define the three main roles of school resource officers: educator (i.e. guest lecturer), informal counselor/mentor, and law enforcement officer.” Note how law enforcement is listed last? There are thousands of instances of SRO’s going above and beyond to work with, for and encourage the youth they contact at their schools. Building relationships takes time; time for kids to grow to trust you, to know they can confide in you, knowing they will get help if they need it. As in any profession, Federal service included, there are unprofessional and incompetent members of the community who are in a position they shouldn’t, but they are the exception, not the rule.

    The writer uses an extremely broad brush to paint with, and while I was never an SRO when I served in Law Enforcement, I worked with many who were. Almost without exception, they were well regarded by the schools, dedicated to the profession and spent thousands of hours working with youth to encourage positive outcomes.

    There are no secrets to school safety; provide a warm, welcoming environment with at least one trusted adult that students feel safe in speaking with. Couple that with an easy to use, effective anonymous reporting system, then add a robust threat assessment program that prioritizes a multi-disciplinary approach with effective and joined up solutions to identify at risk threats and divert them from the path of harm, to themselves and others. Well known physical security measures (limiting access to the school, concepts of layered defense, camera systems etc.) are a requirement too but are no secret and a vital component of school safety.

    Studies have shown time and again, that when there is an act of targeted violence in schools, there has never been a single incident where a law enforcement response from outside the building has stopped the act before injuries occurred. However, there have been many incidents were the intervention of an SRO has stopped an attack either before it took place or limited the impact on the number of victims. SRO’s (or experienced, trained and dedicated safety personnel) aren’t the be all, and end all to school safety, but they are and should be an integral part of a holistic solution, not used to advance another agenda.

    I know of no studies which show a direct correlation between employing consultants and measurable improvements in safety, a reduction in crime, or which led to better outcomes for students. As Samuel Clements once famously opined, “there are lies, damn lies and statistics.”

    When an act of targeted violence is in progress, no-one will be calling for a consultant, but screaming for the SRO or armed safety staff to save them.

  4. Bill Morgan says:

    The risk of a Mass Casualty Event happening on a School Campus, or a Corporate Campus can be dramatically reduced, by understanding what to look for and how to Identify the person ” On the pathway to violence. ” We are so busy sharing how to identify the person, we can’t get caught up. So if people are serious about this topic I will be glad to share the answer.
    This is a solvable issue. If we quit barking up the wrong trees.

    Bill Morgan

  5. Andres Durbak says:

    Tragically, much progress that was made in school police/student interaction over the past 30 years are being nullified by idealogically driven activists who make every effort to drive a wedge between school police and students/educators. It is becoming worse than conditions were in the eightees and early ninetees when I became involved in the school police/security world. Nevertheless, progress was made on many fronts as evidenced by steady reductions in violent incidents and near disapperance of weapon seizures on school property. Conditions were so good that half of the few guns seized were the result of information provided by students to their school police officer. Unfortunately the slide from those good times began with the spread of the “don’t snitch” culture (even teachers bought into it), followed by the proliferation of “school house to jail house” propaganda. Now, the “Left’s” ideology rules and common sense methodology was cast aside. Are students and educators safer now?

  6. Lt. Michael Hewett says:

    Sgt. Weiss,
    Everything you pointed out is accurate, except the fact that as LEOs should never stop learning. Today we train our officers extensively in de-escalation techniques to utilize before resulting in force. These are no different than what we as SROs do in a school system. In EVERY encounter we must first assess what the situation is before responding with the violence that you suggest we use. Working in the school environment is no different. We assess the situation ensure that it is safe then begin the de-escalation and social work as you described. For the last 35 years, I have done this in every environment a police officer works in. We do it on domestic scenes, accident scenes, and homicide scenes. I cannot tell you a day that I have not worked as a police officer and social worker all at the same time.
    Regarding points two and three, we are no longer in a situation where who does them is an answer anymore. We must expose ourselves to the training necessary to conduct site assessments and we must train and drill for almost every imaginable situation that we can. I believe that we only have 1 chance to get a school crisis wrong, yes I said wrong. Even when we do it right it will not be accepted as us having done enough. However, we can mitigate that perspective by doing everything we possibly can to be prepared for these situations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Our Newsletters
Campus Safety Conference promo