School Safety: Three key issues

Sympathize, but not simplify, safeguard the children, upgrade prevention

By Lawrence J. Fedewa 2/27/18

The current debates stemming from the Parkland massacre finally must deal with three key issues:

  1. The emotional climate following this tragedy
  2. The requirements to provide for physical safety of public gathering places
  3. The establishment of a crime prevention capability

 

  1. The emotional climate following this tragedy

The anguish and grief of the victims and their loved ones are not only understandable but are shared by empathetic observers everywhere. The natural reactions to this event are anger, demands for action, and fear for the lives of school children everywhere. The intensity of these emotions can easily lead to hysteria, which in turn can lead to acceptance of simplistic solutions. School safety is not a simple issue; it is a very complex issue. Because this murderer used a gun to execute his perverted mission does not mean that the solution to all the aspects of this type of assault is the further restriction of gun possession.

A determined bad guy can always find a weapon to execute his murders, whether a gun, a sharp knife, a sword, a bomb, another explosive or weapon– and they have. And no matter how good the background check, someone will always slip through the net – by chance or by changing since the check was done. So, other measures must be also employed.

  1. The requirements to provide for physical safety of public gathering places

President Trump has focused rightly on the need to “harden schools as targets” and his public discussions have highlighted many very effective measures which have been developed by numerous school districts. Some of the most effective that have surfaced are: single point of entry to each school with metal detectors managed by armed guards, concealed weapon carrying school personnel, specifically trained to protect students, bullet-proof, locked individual classrooms, and others. It appears that this search is well underway without more attention here. The most successful prevention program in recent years is the way we stopped airline hijacking. Everyone complains about airport security, but we all get scanned, and we don’t have any more hijacking (but it didn’t stop the 9/11 hijackers).

  1. The establishment of a crime prevention capability

The most complicated issue in this whole discussion is the fact that our entire law enforcement is based on catching and successfully prosecuting criminals. Their mission is NOT preventing crimes. The fact is that there is NO law-enforcement agency — or any other government agency — has the mission of preventing crimes. And there is a very solid reason for that. The reason is to protect the privacy and civil rights of individual citizens. The idea of giving the government the power to decide whether I am a threat to society on the basis of my exercise of free speech, or my counseling sessions with a mental health professional, or my history as a prisoner, or wife abuser, or member of an out-of-power political party or partisan organization is fraught with potential for abuse. Especially in view of the current doubts about the FBI and the FISA courts.

The provisions for temporary confiscation of weapons reported by several states, e.g. Indiana, have tackled this problem already and these experiments can set an example of attempts to reconcile crime prevention with catching criminals. The final decision as to the retention of a weapon permanently in these procedures lies with a judge – within 24 to 72 hours. The issue is, what are the criteria on which the judge will make his decision? What is the basis in law?

There is, of course, a common sense, common law rationale for such actions, namely, to protect the common good of society. But the principal thrust of American jurisprudence has always been to protect the individual citizen from an overzealous, even hostile government. Unfortunately, we are currently experiencing glaring examples of the value of such protections, Recent revelations of the federal government’s flagrant abuse of its powers by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts represent the need for very serious caution in giving ANY government body more powers over our lives. Nor is the Judicial Branch of the government any better. How many times have we witnessed clearly partisan verdicts by federal judges, whether district, appellate or Supreme Court? Clearly, the supposedly impartial “wise men (and women)” of the American judiciary are fast disappearing.

Yet, such measures MUST be taken immediately. Today, we live in constant threat for terrorists, whether foreign of home-grown.  We have been attacked since 9/11/2001 by many persons, on many occasions, using weapons ranging from airplanes to butcher knives. Before that were the Oklahoma City bombing (1995), and Columbine school massacre (1999) and other tragic events. It is about time that we face the inadequacy of out current safety infrastructure.

But how? How do we balance individual rights with the prevention of such terrorist acts? My own view is that we must endow crime prevention efforts with aggressive transparency. No more secret arrests. No more unannounced confiscation of weapons or “temporary” incarceration. Our only protection as free American citizens is open courtrooms, public announcements, and provision of competent legal defense. One of the major defenses against unlawful search and seizure should be the press. Unfortunately, like the courts, the press has revealed itself as frequently biased and unreliable. However, the counterbalance to that dereliction of duty is the internet, social media, and an activist citizenry.

These observations and opinions are not answers to the choices which face us. They are reasons to act, cautions against poorly analyzed actions, and desperate calls for doing something to prevent atrocities like Parkland, Florida – but doing the right things.

Copyright 2018, Richfield Press, Ltd,


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