“Sean McCutcheon—an officer in the Lloyd, N.Y., police department and a school resource officer (SRO) for Highland Central School District [somewhere in the picture above]—accidentally discharged his gun at 1:38 p.m. Tuesday in the hallway of Highland High School,” usatoday.com reports. I think the word they’re looking for is “negligently.” Oh wait. Maybe not. “No information has been released on why the gun went off, and the department’s investigation is continuing.” One of those “gun going off” deals eh? I don’t think that means what they think it means. Meanwhile, the town suspended its SRO program. According to stargazette.com, “Administrators were exploring hiring trained security personnel with law enforcement backgrounds and allowing them to carry their side arms in the building.” Nope. Not good enough. Let’s review . . .
As a graduate of the SIG SAUER Active Shooter Trainers course, I can tell you that an active shooter scenario in or near a school presents a very specific set of challenges for anyone attempting to save innocent life. To counter a school shooter you need to be fast, smart, experienced, accurate, careful and deadly. And not necessarily in that order.
During an attack, an armed defender could face booby traps, smoke bombs, bombs, multiple shooters, shooters masquerading as students, friendly fire, etc. We’re not just talking about Adam Lanza-style “lone wolf” crimes either. A terrorist attack (remember them?) could be a highly coordinated assault backed by serious firepower. It might continue for days.
When the you-know-what starts flying, a cop with a gun is better than nothing. Training or no training. But if we’re assuming (as we should) that a school resource officer (stupid name) doesn’t have to be a cop, then we can consider the idea that cops and ex-cops are a lousy choice for this line of work. In fact, they’re a particularly bad idea for the following reasons . . .
1. They look like cops
Active shooters aren’t stupid. And they are motivated. If they know an armed cop stands between them and their evil intentions they will kill the armed cop before moving on to other targets. In that sense, a uniformed cop in a school might as well wear a big badge labeled “shoot me first.”
Balanced against that: the deterrent effect of a shiny badge and a police uniform. Yes, well, counting on active shooters to be cowards—to take the path of least resistance by attacking a school without a cop—is a fundamentally flawed strategy. What if they don’t?
Would the Columbine killers have chosen another school? Adam Lanza may have chosen a different target if he’d known that Sandy Hook Elementary had a cop in situ. But we don’t know that for a fact. We do know that most spree killers carefully plan their assault (e.g. Anders Behring Breivik).
Putting a uniformed officer in a school is not entirely security theater for concerned parents and politicians. Common sense suggests that it has some deterrent effect on active shooters. But I reckon it’s not enough of an advantage to overcome the benefits of hiring an SRO who isn’t a cop.
2. They act like cops
You can have the world’s most highly-decorated SWAT officer strolling through your school—ready, willing and able to kick some active shooter ass—but he’ll still be a cop. Not only does he represent authority, but he’ll project it. Physically, through the uniform. Culturally, through their attitude and interactions.
While a uniformed RSO should know what to do in the event of an active shooter (note: should), he or she loses much of his or her ability to prevent spree killing. Their obvious status as a law enforcement makes gathering mission critical intel from the student population difficult.
High schoolers drink illegally, smoke pot, engage in underage sex and generally do things that they don’t want their parents, school administrators and especially the police to know about. Culturally, it’s not cool to pal-up with the po-po. A uniformed RSO is, generally speaking, out of the loop. That’s not a good place to be before, during or after an active shooter attacks.
3. They think like cops
Cops are like airline pilots: they endure long periods of extreme boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. OK, adrenalin-pumped activity. Cops deal with the boredom by interacting with their brother and sister officers and cruising their beat.
A uniformed RSO is isolated from other cops. As stated above, they’re pretty much isolated from the school population, too. So they slip even deeper into a state of boredom than usual and, let’s face it, switch off.
I have no idea how an RSO came to fire his Glock .45 in a school but I’d bet dollars to donuts (so to speak) boredom played a part. What were you thinking when you took your gun out Officer McCutcheon? I guess I wasn’t Chief. No. No he wasn’t.
A negligent discharge is bad enough. Being caught napping (perhaps literally) by an active shooter or shooters would be immeasurably worse. But cops can’t help it. They’re trained to react to crime not prevent it or, more to the point, actively guard against it. Retraining them? Good luck with that.
The NRA says cops in schools are the answer to the threat of spree killing or terrorist attack. Wrong. It’s an answer. It’s not the answer.
The answer to this problem—which is not going away no matter how many unconstitutional civilian disarmament laws are inflicted on law-abiding citizens—is a non-uniformed force of School Resource Officers.
Individuals who can ming with the kids. Men and women with the right mindset and skill set for the job, including active shooter interdiction training. People armed with a concealed carry weapon wth access to body armor and an AR-15-stye rifle.
The answer also includes training-up and coordinating armed parents, teachers or administrators. The sooner we face the fact that our safety requires a measured and appropriate response outside of the law enforcement community, the safer our children will be.