Sunday, January 13, 2013

Arming School Janitors is a Terribly Foolish Idea

The aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting and the ensuing national debate has generated all sorts of discussion regarding school safety and the presence of guns in American society - some veering into the downright scary and crazy.  One of the worst approaches to this dilemma is to promote the increased arming of Americans.  The nation already has 300 million guns floating around - there is no shortage of guns, and their prominence has not decreased violence or made anyone safer.  However, crisis situations can lead to irrational emotional responses, and that is precisely what has happened in one school district in Ohio.  As reported by the Huffington Post, Montpelier School District in Ohio Begins Plan to Arm Janitors, Pay for their Training.

Arming janitors or teachers or administrators as a way of increasing safety in schools is a terribly irresponsible idea that is based on no data.  For this reason, police departments across the nation oppose the idea of increased citizen gun ownership.  The reality is that an average citizen can not be adequately trained to handle what is, in effect, a near militaristic situation.  Being able to handle a violent situation with the control and precision of a police officer requires years of regular and consistent training.  To argue that a "janitor" who has been "trained" will be able to effectively take down a shooter intent on killing people in a school is to ignore a vast lack of data.  Additionally, the idea of a gun being consistently present in the hallways of schools and possessed by an individual whose expertise is building maintenance is not only reckless, but dismissive of the professionalism we require of police officers.

On the other side of the debate is the proposal by the Obama Administration to fund more armed police officers in schools.  The School Resource Officer (SRO) program is the appropriate - and only rational - response to increased safety and security at our nation's 150,000 schools.  In the two high schools where I've worked - large suburban schools - the presence of SROs is not disruptive and can be a important part of the school community.  SROs are not - or shouldn't be - the average street police.  They are trained to engage and build relationships with young people, connections built on trust.  At the same time, they are trained professionals whose entire raison d'ĂȘtre is to "protect and serve."  The programs may be expensive, even to the tune of $50 - $100 million a year.  But, if Americans determine they want armed people in schools, the cost is worth it, and it is the only rational and acceptable option.

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