The Green Bay School Board recently rejected a proposal for armed security guards in schools in response to recent school shootings elsewhere. The Vice President of the school board tells Media Trackers that he believes more police in schools are needed. But he believes the personal relationships school resource officers cultivate with students will do much more to prevent shootings than armed security guards roaming school hallways would.
Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith, with Schools Superintendent Michelle Langenfeld at his side, at a February news conference said he was proposing “a security officer, armed in every school, ready to respond to reduce that response time to somebody that’s trying to do harm to our children.” As WBAY-TV reported:
“The problem is, when someone breaks into a school and comes in through that front door, in those first critical minutes they’re armed, they’re going to take on as many, turn as many of our children into victims as possible. We need someone there to stop them,” Smith says.
Smith also said at the news conference that the proposal was made “in consultation with everybody you see up here.” That would include Langenfeld, who also spoke at the conference:
“We’ve heard concerns, we’ve heard fears and we’ve heard many suggestions in terms of how we can improve safety. As I’ve said and I will repeat it over and over again, the safety and well-being of students and staff is and will continue to be our top priority.”
Yet, in rejecting the proposal the board said its decision was based on research about the effectiveness of armed guards and community input. Green Bay School Board Vice President Ed Dorff said at the meeting that there are already armed police, school resource officers, present, primarily in middle and high schools. Dorff also argued that guns present at previous school shootings didn’t stop the carnage from happening. Media Trackers asked Dorff in an interview if that might indicate that the armed presence at those schools was insufficient:
I suppose you could. The thing is, there are no 100% guarantees out there. One of the comments that people often make is it takes a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun. There are examples of that. There was one late last week. Don’t remember details. But, it needs to be pointed out there are no perfect solutions, I guess.
Dorff said he would advocate for more police officers in schools, but in the role of resource officers who establish rapport with students, as opposed to offers who are their strictly as armed guards:
More SROs should be looked at seriously The softer side, the sentinel for being on guard for what’s going on. I’ve always been a big supporter of that program. Everybody talks about and justly so, the mental health needs we have. SROs are not mental health professionals but have training that could help. I would see that as a positive.
Dorff also opposes the use of stand alone metal detectors in schools:
I oppose metal detectors, for a lot of reasons. It sets the wrong kind of tone. You also have to think about the logistics of it. Some of the things Chris had in his report about metal detectors(a report issued to the school board) is how do you staff it? Do you do it at every event? I just don’t believe that’s something our community wants for the schools right now; the walk through detector. How do you staff them, what do you do when they go off? It poses a lot of problem.
Dorff also fears metal detectors would create complacency and a false sense of security. Dorff argues that the effectiveness of school resource officers was evident in the thwarted 2006 planned shooting at Green Bay East High School. Police said three students had planned a “Columbine style” attack at East for two years. Dorff says a student will to step up and tell authorities about the plot shows how SRO relationships with students can prevent shootings. That student however, came forward to an associate principal.
While Dorff believes human relationships do more than guns to prevent shootings, Smith, in announcing his proposal, pointed out why armed security guards with the specific purpose of stopping a shooter once they’ve made the decision to attack:
“We need someone there to prevent them from coming in. And if they do manage to breach that front door, someone that’s going to stop them. And I think the right person to do that is an armed security officer at the front of every school in our school district.”
While Dorff argues that no security measure will ever be 100% effective, schools with SROs have also seen mass shootings. Dorff says he isn’t afraid of guns, but he believes the relationship equity SROs develop with students is more valuable in stopping shootings. School Board President Brenda Warren also voiced a preference for preventative measures that are student-focused. From Wisconsin Public Radio:
Brenda Warren, president of the Green Bay School Board, said it would cost the district $2.5 million a year to station armed guards at all elementary, middle and high schools in the district.
She added that the district’s middle and high schools already have resource officers on site with access to guns. She’d rather see the money spent on current programs that provide mental health care and support social workers.
“Basically social and emotional support for students as opposed to putting armed guards in our schools,” Warren said.
But Smith said his concern was dealing with a shooter once they enter a school. Also from WPR:
Smith said the average school shooting lasts three minutes and that it can take seven minutes for police to get to the scene.
“What someone with a rifle can do in seven minutes in an elementary school — that’s what keeps me up at night,” Smith said.