There are times when law enforcement reminds me of the “We must do something” scene in Blazing Saddles. When the governor thought there was a crisis, he not only came up with a flimsy solution, he expected everyone to give him a “harrumph”. We’ve all seen it happen: someone makes a complaint and we are ordered to do something “to make it look like we’re doing something.” The Parkland school shooting has sparked that initiative in several circles, including law enforcement. Across the nation, state legislators have enacted legislation requiring police departments to train for active shooters. The state of Illinois has even created a “master tactical patrol officer” training program for approximately 30 officers statewide to train everyone else in case of an active shooter. Harrumph.
We must train every officer for an active shooter incident. But, why isn’t there an initiative to train the school resource officers? It has been a wide spread belief or prejudice or whatever you want to call it that many school resource officers have been placed in the schools to get them off the streets. I’ve known a few like that through the years. Maybe they’re too old, too lazy, too out of shape or just too bad at their jobs to be out on the streets so departments stick them in the schools. We hold Air Marshals to a very high standard of training, marksmanship and proficiency so we can be safe when we fly but we aren’t willing to hold SRO’s to a high standard to protect our children.
I like to think I understand a little bit about the subject. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in History, I spent four years teaching at the high school level in the hopes of some day becoming an FBI agent. When I failed in that endeavor, I became a police officer 16 years ago and I am beginning my fourth year as the school resource officer. I have been a firearms instructor for ten years. Plus, I am certified as an active shooter threat instructor by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.
Early in my career, I received active shooter training from SWAT guys who instructed us to post up on a building and wait until we had at least three officers before entering an active shooter situation. Experience has taught us all this isn’t the right tactic, nor is it worth believing we must wait for the patrol officers to arrive to address the situation. However, we must begin by posting the RIGHT officers in the schools. A 300 lbs. officer is probably going to have a lot of difficulty running from one end of a school to another and then being able to address an active shooter. The high school I am stationed at is more than a quarter mile long and there are much bigger schools and campuses across the country. We all cringed when we watched the officer in Parkland wait outside while the shooting continued. We as a law enforcement community must hold ourselves to a higher standard and demand the school resource officers are the right officers for the job and receive the right training to address school violence.
First, who is the right officer for the SRO position? Every school is different, but an SRO must have some common traits: good with kids, friendly, outgoing, and tactically sound. Far too often, I hear of SRO’s who have chosen the position to close out their careers believing it’s a good way to coast into retirement. As I mentioned previously, it’s also been common to see officers who couldn’t cut it on the streets be placed in the schools. I’ve learned schools are microcosms of our communities with the same issues. If you can’t cut in on the streets, what are you doing to protect our children?
Second, we must look at how we equip our SRO’s. Some departments allow officers to wear a soft uniform of a polo shirt and khaki tactical pants while others require a Class A uniform every day, but that difference does not change the need to properly equip our SRO’s, especially with a long gun. Until now, the storage of a long gun has been an issue for almost every SRO I’ve ever spoken to. Most patrol rifles are stored inside a patrol vehicle out in the parking lot. That rifle doesn’t do anyone any good if it can’t be accessed in a crisis. Commercial safes have often been bulky, slow to access, easy to break into and “sending the wrong message” to students and parents about a militarized police officer in the school. Unfortunately, we live in a time when the debate over how it looks to have a long gun in the school is trumped by our need to have one in the school. It’s a sad fact we need the long guns and Vapensystems Inc. (www.vapensystems.com) has created the best available storage option for long guns. Vapen’s QVR (or Quiver) can be secured to a wall or floor but can be placed practically anywhere including in closets, offices, storage rooms, or some of the other locations around a school. Having multiple QVRs and multiple long guns at locations throughout a school not only would increase response time, it would also assist the SRO in being effective in engaging any threat to the students. The QVR features a door that opens 180 degrees and requires less room for storage and access than a traditional, box-type gun safe. The safe can be accessed via a code or by placing a finger on the biometric keypad (the keypad can remember up to 10 different fingerprints). Up to two long guns can be stored inside along with multiple hand guns and body armor. If security of the long gun is a concern, the QVR’s locking mechanism is “buried” in the base which makes it almost impossible to crack open.
Body armor also must be a consideration for the SRO. A lot of today’s carriers are secured by a cummerbund and although these work great for SWAT teams, it’s impractical for an SRO who must respond quickly and may be wearing a Class A uniform. The absolute best body armor for an SRO is from Propper. Propper’s Critical Response Kit was designed for the first responder on the scene and the SRO is the tip of the spear for school security. The Critical Response Kit is a lightweight, one-size-fits-all package and it’s fast and easy to get on. With a price tag of $289.95, it’s at a price most agencies or individual officers can afford. Speed is the name of the game in responding to an active shooter and Propper got it right with this design. Grab the kit, slip it on and secure it with plastic buckles on the side. The affordability of the kit with Level IV ballistic plates makes it so every agency can afford them and the ease to get the kit on quickly makes it an indispensable piece of equipment that can be kept in the office, patrol car, or QVR safe.
Propper also manufactures a top-quality bailout bag that should be part of every SRO’s equipment. The bag is small enough to fit in a desk drawer, filing cabinet or the QVR safe but has enough space to carry a lot of gear. A grease pencil can be used to mark your direction of travel or location. Flashbangs or smoke grenades can be used to assault the shooter and cover the evacuation of students. Laminated maps of the school can be invaluable in communicating exit/entry points to responding officers and perhaps addressing the location of suspects, victims and/or explosive devices. Tourniquets and Israeli bandages are going to be needed for any injured victims and the faster they receive aid, the better their chances for survival. Other items such as flex cuffs, glass breakers, and door stops may prove to be invaluable.
What about training? As I said earlier, early in my career I received training to arrive on scene and wait for at least two more officers before making entry. That tactic wastes too much time and has cost too many lives. The consensus now is every officer will proceed on their own and if they can link up with other officers they can proceed as a team then. The emphasis is on solo officer response utilizing limited penetration tactics. There are variances in limited penetration techniques but there are no standard Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for school resource officers. I’ve seen several programs that have been put together by individuals with years of tactical experience but no experience as a school resource officer and I have seen programs put together by SRO’s with no tactical experience. We must bridge the gap to make sure our SRO’s have sound tactics and weapon manipulation skills to carry out the tactics.
The National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) has recently announced a three-day training for active shooters taught by NASRO instructors and the Tactical Defense Institute. This is an optional course and not involved in the basic SRO certification. The course description includes the statement, “Officers attending the course need to be in reasonably good physical condition as the course will involve a great deal of physical activity.” Am I wrong in saying, “If you can’t physically handle the training, why are you in a position requiring you to protect our children?” Day One is classroom only with the emphasis on the psychology of school shooters and the history of school shootings. Days two and three will involve “realistic scenarios in a school facility. Attendees will gain experience in one and two officer responses to specific scenarios. Tactical movement and entry techniques will be stressed.” (https://narsro.org) Why waste a day with the history of the school shooter? Why do scenarios if TTP’s (tactics, techniques, and procedures) aren’t being taught first? Why is this not a part of the basic SRO certification course instead of learning styles, how to make lesson plans and how to prepare presentations for students? Shouldn’t our students’ safety be the top priority?
While searching the internet for tactical training for school resource officers, I saw an article on Officer.com about a company training SRO’s with an emphasis on tubular assaults and marksmanship at extreme distances in chaos with a handgun. The program has a strong emphasis on being able to engage a shooter in a school hallway with a handgun at ranges of 100 yards with numerous students between the officer and the suspect. Maybe this sounds like a great idea to some people but, I think this is the worst idea I’ve ever seen regarding training SRO’s. I don’t know too many cops who could competently make a shot on a moving target at 100 yards with a handgun. I don’t know of anyone who could competently make a shot on a moving target at 100 yards with a handgun with dozens, if not hundreds, of kids running through the halls. Not only are the kids going to block our views, but also be in the foreground and background preventing a safe shot. This is reckless, dangerous and incompetent. We must do better.
So, do I have the perfect answer? No, I don’t, but I also don’t know of a perfect answer to any problem. Choosing the right personnel and giving them the right equipment is a start but giving them the right training is even more important. The basic SRO course offered by NASRO is a five-day, 40-hour course. School law is an absolute necessity, but we must make school safety our top priority. I am currently offering a three day course for school resource officers through my training company, Blue Line Combatives. The first day consists of marksmanship drills, executive protection type drills, and close quarter battle drills with a handgun and long gun. Improving the officer’s lethality and marksmanship while also teaching how to provide another layer of protection for students who may be caught in the crossfire is vital to the role of SRO. A day of limited penetration tactics and techniques is day two. TTP’s established for solo officer response and how to link up with other officers will improve response time. A third day of scenario-based training tops it off. But, just like air marshals and SWAT teams, we need to have a minimum score on qualification shoots to ensure we are getting officers who at least have the marksmanship ability to carry out their duties to combat a school shooter.
School resource officers are our first line of defense against school shooters. We can’t allow the position to be a step to retirement or a place to hide incompetent officers. Posting officers who are tactically sound, physically fit and vigilant does take a good cop off the streets but aren’t our children worth it? Giving our SRO’s the proper equipment and training to ensure our children’s safety as much as we ensure the safety of airline passengers shouldn’t be an idea, it should be an every day practice. Until schools and law enforcement agencies focus on properly training and equipping the right officers to be SRO’s, our first line of defense against school shooters may prove to be our weakest.