School safety on a shoestring budget

With less money than ever to spend on school safety, there are still ways to add security on campuses


     "We have this idea that you shouldn't practice things with kids because it will scare them. Well, we practice fire drills all the time and kids don't sit up at night and think about fires," she says.

     She believes schools should build bridges of trust with the students. "Every single kid in the school should have an adult he can trust. Relationships build trust," Zikmund-Fisher says.

     Her bottom line: Planning is free. Take a step back from the spreadsheet and ask, "What are we prepared for and what are we not prepared for?" Preplanning a response goes a long way toward solving problems and costs nothing.

Get involved before the worst happens

     Former L.A.-based prosecutor Robin Sax has a simple philosophy: Action is smarter, cheaper and more successful than reaction.

     "Prosecutors and law enforcement officers don't get involved until after a crime has been committed," Sax says. She says she also sees reluctance on the parts of parents to have safety conversations with their kids. "Parents are so concerned about kids 'living in fear' that they don't have those critical talks," Sax says.

     Sax notes that being proactive is better for prevention. "I equate it to [the fact that] people who actually read the booklet and listen to the [flight attendants] are more likely to survive an incident than people who don't," she says. "Why can't we talk about personal safety?"

     Sax believes society has become too politically correct in that we don't teach children to listen to their instincts. Instead, they give everyone the benefit of the doubt, including ignoring behaviors and activities they shouldn't. The former prosecutor says she believes programs that involve finding teachable moments in everyday life would help reduce the opportunity for school violence.

     "It goes back to instinct. The kids need to be able to recognize the outward signs and symptoms," she says. And, she believes, schools should have teachers address subjects that are often considered taboo.

     Sax draws the comparison between sexual harassment training in the workplace and recognizing when something might be off-kilter at school. Businesses spend a lot of time and energy educating workers on sexual harassment, but schools do little to cover the signs that something could be terribly wrong with a student's outlook.

     She also encourages law enforcement agencies as well as educators to be proactive with technology. "Every school should have people on Facebook and on MySpace listening to cries for help. Don't wait and go there after the crime has taken place. Why not say 'I noticed this' to the kid? Connect the dots on how kids act and what they say to us. Pay attention to social networking," she says.

     In fact, Eric Harris, who along with Klebold committed suicide after the Columbine High School shootings, left plenty of clues as to his violent intentions. Although some law enforcement officers had apparently been alerted to Harris' penchant for guns, bombs and threats of harm to others, other than the parents of a student they threatened, no one seemed to take his rants seriously.

     "Kids want boundaries — that is why sexual predators are so successful," Sax asserts. "Give kids the attention they want. The goal is to raise adults who make good decisions."

     Her bottom line: Form multi-disciplinary teams to monitor kids' social networking and keep their ears open for things that seem off-kilter.

Add more manpower

     It may initially appear to be a more expensive way to handle the job, but there may be a way to cover more ground for less money. What you have to do here is think outside the lone school resource officer model.

     Steve Cliffe, a former educator who previously worked in personal and executive protection, combined his knowledge of the two disciplines to create a program that, he says, better prepares school employees and administrators to react the right way to perceived threats. Cliffe says the first thing school employees need to do is change their mindset.

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